We have a crazy idea.
But before we share it we have to provide some context. Let’s back up to October 17, when most of the world was first introduced to ISA.
The public and the media have been getting a crash course in recent months about this virus and about virus science. Unfortunately, when it comes to the media, most reporters fail miserably when it comes to explaining complicated science of any kind and virus science is no different.
In the case of ISA, let’s be clear: The virus is not in B.C.
Some samples of wild fish were tested back in October. The first tests, which use something called a PCR test to look at the genetics of the samples, found evidence to suggest that the ISA virus was present.
This was only the first step.
In virus testing, if scientists get indication that a virus is present in their sample, they must then amplify the virus and grow it in a cell culture to prove it’s actually really there. This is crucial. Otherwise, if the positive result is not repeatable, it’s worthless.
For example, consider the famous “face on Mars” picture from the 1976 Viking 1 spacecraft:
That sure looks like a face. Is it evidence of aliens? Maybe we should take a closer look and find out. NASA was able to get a spacecraft in orbit around Mars in 2001, and using more advanced cameras, take a higher resolution picture of the same landmark:
Definitely not a face. It’s either a mountain or a giant “Pizza Pocket” that just exploded in the microwave.
ALL HAIL THE ALIEN “PIZZA POCKET” ON MARS!
The original evidence suggesting a “face” has been thoroughly overturned by more extensive, better evidence showing it is a natural landmark.
But “true believers” and fringe cranks still cling to that original evidence and claim that the “face” is real and must have been made by aliens and that NASA must be covering it all up.
ISA conspiracy theorists should be lumped into the same camp as people who believe there is really a face on Mars and an alien “Bio-Station Alpha.”
There is absolutely no evidence to support such ridiculous and wild-eyed theories. Yet they persist thanks to zealots such as Alexandra Morton who refuses to admit that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency thoroughly retested her samples, found no evidence of the virus, and proved her doomsday prophecies wrong once again.
And unfortunately, like stories about UFOs and Bigfoot and Atlantis, the media uncritically repeats what cranks say because it gets readers’ attention, gets eyeballs on print and virtual pages, keeps readership numbers up and keeps advertisers happy.
Hopefully real scientists can move beyond this nonsense to answer a very real and very interesting question that has come out of this sideshow:
If they’re not detecting ISA, what are they detecting?
There have been numerous “false positive” identifications of ISA by preliminary PCR testing, but it has been proven that there is no ISA in the samples being tested.
Dr. Are Nylund, who independently tested numerous samples submitted by Ms. Morton, concluded that:
“These findings may be a Pacific type of the virus or a totally new type… The test which was used is adapted to the Atlantic ISA viruses and constitutes only a small sequence of the genes of the ISA virus. This also means that a virus having genetic similarities with ISA-virus or something totally different may be picked up by the test. Therefore we need to sequence/genotype the virus to provide comment on the origin.”
Good idea. Is anyone working on this? Is anybody actually trying to figure out what is actually being detected in these tests?
Whatever it is, if it’s anything at all, it’s not apparently harmful to salmon, although the “true believers” are already spinning another conspiracy theory to explain how it actually must be harmful and must be connected to the “viral signature” detected by Dr. Kristi Miller and how it must somehow be connected to salmon farms. Wait for it, you’ll hear it from them soon enough.
But back in the real world, perhaps there really is some previously undetected virus out in the ocean which looks like ISA on a PCR test. It’s not inconceivable; after all there are a billion viruses in a drop of sea water and we are only just starting to learn about how many viruses and microbes are really out there in the ocean.
As well, previous research, which included Nylund, made an interesting discovery about the ISA virus. It found that parts of the ISA virus — the parts that are tested in PCR testing — look very similar to the influenza A virus!
What does that mean? Further research has not been done to investigate this connection, but perhaps it could indicate that ISA and influenza are descendants of some proto-virus from millions of years ago. Perhaps millions of benign descendants of that virus are floating around in the ocean and we’re only just now noticing it because we’ve never looked for it specifically before.
Perhaps there is some sort of ISA-like virus which has always been present in the Pacific ocean which, like most viruses, does absolutely nothing to its hosts.
Some real science to investigate this question would sure be interesting. And although it wouldn’t placate the hardcore “true believers” crowd, it would certainly bring good science and real information to an interested public.