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Looking Up: UFOs, viruses and a DNA mystery

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By Donald Burleson

Special to the Daily Record

In February 1953, Cambridge University researchers James Watson and Francis Crick — aided by X-ray diffraction work done by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins of King’s College — dazzled the scientific world by discovering the double helix structure of DNA. This was the culmination of two years of intense work and was a monumentally important result.

But there are some haunting problems with the timeline, problems that arise in the field of UFO studies with regard to government secrecy about a deadly virus, one very different from the now-famous new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

A certain document, unearthed some years ago by UFO researchers, discloses that during a UFO crash retrieval-operation in New Mexico — presumably referring to the 1947 Roswell incident — something dangerous happened. Four technicians at the crash site supposedly came into contact with body fluids while handling the ejected bodies from the UFO. They fell suddenly and violently ill from what is thought to be a very fast-incubating virus; a pathogen against which the human immune system had no defenses whatsoever.

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All four subsequently developed symptoms like those of hemorrhagic fever and died. The document states that samples taken from the bodies “have yielded new strains of a retro-virus not totally understood.”

A retrovirus (the term is not usually hyphenated nowadays) is a very specialized and exceedingly harmful kind of bug. It enters the human cell as RNA, the substance into which DNA normally transcribes itself in order to do its job of stringing amino acids together to make proteins. A retrovirus, however, starts out as RNA, bonds with free-standing nucleotides in the cell’s fluids to “retro-transcribe” into DNA, and positions itself on a chromosome as if it were a gene, where it then freely replicates along with the rest of the host’s genome. HIV is a familiar example of a retrovirus.

For all its scary qualities, we can at least be glad that COVID-19 is not a retrovirus since it could be even more harmful if it were.

Here’s the curious thing about the document referring to a retrovirus active at the UFO crash site. Thorough forensic analysis shows the document to have been written around 1951. The term “retrovirus” didn’t come into use in mainstream scientific circles until the 1970s.

In order to coin the term and characterize such viruses, someone early on had to understand the concept of retro-transcription from RNA to DNA, and had to know that some viruses, like the deadly one at the crash retrieval, perform such self-transformations. Someone had to know all this two years before Watson and Crick and their colleagues determined the fundamental structure of DNA, and two decades before the wider community of scientists even knew of the existence of retroviruses.

Someone managed to leak that genetic phenomenon to the world of virologists in general, without telling them how retroviruses were really discovered and first studied.

This level of government secrecy, when one thinks about it, is appalling. Some things, of course, have to be kept secret, but that shouldn’t include basic biological truths that properly belong to humankind.