Europe Could Have Been More HIV Resistant, If Not for the Romans

By Andrew Moseman | September 4, 2008 3:34 pm

Romans!A millennium and a half after the fall of their empire, ancient Romans might still be wreaking havoc on the European continent.

On average, Northern Europeans are more resistant to HIV infection and take longer to develop AIDS than Southern Europeans, and French researcher Eric Faure thinks that represents the legacy of the Roman Empire, strangely enough. There’s a gene variant in question, called CCR5-Delta32, which produces proteins that the HIV virus has trouble attaching to. But while in some areas of Northern Europe 15 percent of people carry this gene variant, only 4 percent of Greeks have it. In fact, if you look at the distribution of places where few people carry the gene, Faure says, the map looks suspiciously like that of the extent of Roman rule.

But Romans didn’t necessarily intermix with their colonists that much, according to Faure, so how did their lack of CCR5-Delta32 spread across Southern Europe? He says it’s possible that Romans introduced a disease that hit people who carried the HIV-resistant gene variation especially hard and reduced their numbers. The conquerors also introduced domesticated animals like cats and donkeys across their territory, and those animals can spread disease to humans.

This finding isn’t definitive, and other hypotheses about the gene variation exist. But when ancient Romans nicknamed theirs “the eternal city,” they probably couldn’t imagine how many places their legacy would turn up.

Image: flickr/hans s

MORE ABOUT: HIV & AIDS
  • Freya

    Here is my 2 cents for what it is worth. I think that the Romans may not have had the CCR5 gene and may have killed off some of the germanic people with this CCR5 gene, but then the vikings who were not exposed to the Roman empire diseases and who carried the CCR5 gene, helped to spread the CCR5 gene around to more areas. Just my 2 cents worth. So we have the Vikings to thank for spreading the CCR5 gene around.

  • John Bacon

    I suppose the disease hypothesis is as good as any other, but it is also possible that it is connected to the genetic makeup that makes those of Mediterranean descent resistent to other diseases, i.e.thallisemia. It is not clear from the article read what the extent of the area referred to but the majority of the Roman Empire was around the Mediterranean Sea and those poeple conquered by the Romans would have had the same genetic make-up vis-a-vis disease resistence. So it would follow that if this resulted in the relative lack of the CCR5-Delta32 gene that it would be more prevalent within the bounds of the Empire than outside the borders.

  • Not fooled

    Another “Blame the Romans” article. Some are even titled “ROMANS SPREAD AIDS.” First, this inaccurate hypothesis was done by a Frenchmen. “He says it’s possible…”, “This finding isn’t definitive…” In other words this is just one Frenchmen’s biased opinion and since everyone hates Italians they spread this like wild fire. Jealously is my guess. Here is something to think about, This DNA strain CCR5 -Delta 32 is a MUTATION, and it has DNA elements missing! No wonder they died off duuhhhhh. However 15% of Northern Europeans have this mutation, and I wonder how strong they are biologically speaking? And the part of this that makes me slam my head against the wall is the second from the last paragraph. Look at how they end it: “The conquerors also introduced domesticated animals like cats and donkeys across their territory, and those animals can spread disease to humans.” SO NOW THEY ARE BLAMING CATS?????? Frenchie get a real job because this is more hate than science. Hey maybe he’s mad because the Italians beat France in the World Cup hehe.

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