In 2006, long before ERV was a twinkle in my eye– A really cool paper was published in PLOS Pathogens:
They found a ‘new’ retrovirus, XMRV (‘new’ to humans, old to mice). A new retrovirus in prostate tumors. Especially in prostate tumors that had a defect in an anti-viral protein, RNASEL. Not only was the idea that there was another human retrovirus out there incredible, it was an incredible finding for patients– if a virus causes prostate tumors, then antiretrovirals could prevent prostate tumors. Like the HPV vaccine–>cervical cancer revolution for women, XMRV treatments would be revolutionary for men (not that the HPV vaccine isnt a boon for men too).
It was an incredible finding, and six years later, that one paper has over 100 citations.
Unfortunately, I mean that word literally:
Definition of INCREDIBLE: too extraordinary and improbable to be believed
It turns out that finding was, in fact, too good to be true. Several groups figured out that one could ‘find’ XMRV… when they were really finding contaminating mouse DNA. ‘XMRV’ wasnt really there as a genuine human pathogen causing human disease. Several groups hypothesized that ‘XMRV’ was the result of the original prostate cancer tumor, CWR22, being passaged in mice to turn into the ‘prostate cancer cell line’ 22Rv1. Pre-XMRV-1 and Pre-XMRV-2, found in mice as ERVs, could recombine to create ‘XMRV’.
But these were ad hoc hypotheses.
We needed one particular experiment to ‘prove’ once and for all XMRV was not ‘real’– What did the original tumor, CWR22, look like? Was it infected with XMRV, or was it clean?
That very experiment was done by the very lab that put out the original paper:
Robert Silverman– The scientist on the first paper. The scientist who retracted his laboratories contributions to the infamous ‘XMRV–>CFS‘ paper after doing his own experiments and determining his initial findings were false (with both the experiments and the retraction being entirely done on his own accord). This same guy did this work, which absolutely establishes that XMRV is not found in the wild in any capacity.
Here is what they did– The first ‘hint’ of XMRV came from a prostate cancer cell line, 22Rv1.
So they went back and looked at the DNA of the original tumor used to make 22Rv1– They were looking for any evidence of XMRV.
Remember how we figured out HIV-1 was older than we thought by looking at tissues embedded in paraffin? This group did the same thing, except with XMRV– Paraffin embedded prostate tissue from the patient tumor used to make 22Rv1.
There was no XMRV DNA.
No mouse DNA either– The original prostate tissue was not contaminated. XMRV was probably created during passage of the tumor in nude mice, exactly how Paprotka et al hypothesized.
XMRV is not a genuine human pathogen.
Frankenstein Silverman killed his monster, and I really couldnt be more proud of him. This is exactly what you do if you make a mistake in science: You fix it.