The AIDS Pandemic

Fall 2007
TR 1:00 - 2:15, CHM 1006

Dr. David Wessner

Watson 218, x2846
Office hours: M 2:00 - 4:00 and by appointment

AIDS. We all know something about the pandemic. For all of you, in fact, AIDS has been in the news your entire life. You certainly know that HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, causes it. Hopefully, you know how the virus is transmitted. Hopefully, you protect yourself from infection by always practicing safer sex. You are probably aware that numerous drugs (anti-retrovirals) now are available to combat HIV/AIDS. And you may know something about the search for a vaccine.

But let’s think about these and a few other statements more closely. How do we know that HIV causes AIDS? What do the anti-retrovirals really do? How does a vaccine differ from an anti-retroviral? What does HIV actually do to an infected person? How does HIV differ from, let’s say, influenza virus?

To answer any of these questions, we need to understand some basic biology and chemistry and, perhaps more importantly, we need to understand how science is conducted. During the course of the semester, we will look at important aspects of the AIDS pandemic and try to understand the underlying science. By the end of the semester, you should have a better understanding of HIV/AIDS and be more science literate.

This course is organized very differently from most other courses at Davidson. First, we will meet as a group on some days to go over fundamental topics. On other days, you will meet in small groups with a Senior Biology major to discuss these and other topics more intimately. I am hoping that, with this approach, you will better understand the material and see how the basic science has driven our understanding of HIV/AIDS. Second, we will have the great opportunity to interact with several guest speakers who have first-hand knowledge of HIV/AIDS. Third, there is a small service-learning component to this course. As a class, we will participate in a community outreach program in conjunction with World AIDS Day 2007 (12/1/07).


AIDS: The Biological Basis, 4th ed. 2006. Weeks, B. and E. Alcamo. Jones and Bartlett: New York, NY.
Biology and Biotechnology. 2005. Kreuzer, H. and A. Massey. ASM Press: Washington, D.C.
Mountains Beyond Mountains . 2004. Kidder, T. Random House: New York, NY.

Journal Articles

During the course of the semester, we will read a few scientific journal articles. These articles are on electronic reserve. To access these articles, go the Library Course Reserves page for this course. Click on 'Connect to Course Reserves.' Enter your network username and password and then browse for this course. Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view these articles. This software is available on all Library computers and can be downloaded free of charge to your personal computer.

New York Times Articles

Throughout the semester, we will be reading a number of articles from the New York Times that are available on the web. To access these articles, you need to register for the New York Times online (a free service). After registering, you will be able to access these articles.



Assignment Date Grading
Paper 1 9/25 12.5%
Review 1 10/9 17.5%
Paper 2 10/30 12.5%
Review 2 11/20 17.5%
Letter to the Editor 11/27 5%
Final Exam 12/14-20 20%
Class Participation All Semester 12.5%
World AIDS Day Project 12/1 2.5%





Science as a way of knowing

  • Kreuzer: Pg. 3-19

What is life? What is a cell?

  • Kreuzer: Chpt. 2
  • Kreuzer: Chpt. 3


Using Library Resources

  • Meet in Library Electronic Classroom


AIDS: The early years


Guest Speaker - Meg Lafontaine ('04), Centers for Disease Control


AIDS 101: Metrolina AIDS Project


What is a virus?

  • Weeks: Chpt. 2


What is HIV?


From DNA to mRNA to Protein

  • Kreuzer: Chpt. 4

Paper#1 due


Reverse Transcriptase and AZT


The Immune System

  • Kreuzer: Chpt. 5
  • Weeks: Chpt. 3

ELISA and Western Blot Assays


Review 1 - In class


Guest speaker - Lindsay Cohen Jackson ('99), Litmus, Inc.

  • Weeks: Pg. 212-220
  • Kreuzer: Chpt. 18
10/18 Guest speaker - Lucy Marcil ('06), Peace Corps Volunteer


Antiretroviral Drugs

  • Weeks: Chpt. 8


Graphing and Data Presentation


  • Mitsuya et al. 3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine (BW A509U): An antiviral agent that inhibits the infectivity and cytopathic effect of human T-lymphotropic virus type III / lymphadenopathy-associated virus in vitro. PNAS (1985) 82:7096-710


Molecular Biology, Pt. 1

  • Kreuzer: Chpt. 15

Paper #2 due


HIV Testing

  • Weeks: Chpt. 7

Hemophilia and HIV/AIDS


Molecular Biology, Pt. 2

  • Kreuzer: Chpt. 15


Long-term nonprogressors - Host Attributes

  • Liu et al. Homozygous defect in HIV-1 coreceptor accounts for resistance of some multiply-exposed individuals to HIV-1 infection. Cell (1996) 86:367-377
11/13 Guest speaker - Ron Hudson, International Carnival of Pozitivity



Review 2 handed out


Review 2 due




The Search for a Vaccine

  • Weeks: Chpt. 9

Letter to the Editor due


HIV/AIDS Today and Tomorrow


Mountains Beyond Mountains


Mountains Beyond Mountains


Concluding Thoughts