Thursday, 27 August 2015

HIV-Related Virus Has Existed in Primates for Millions of Years

by Elizabeth Goldbaum, Staff Writer | August 27, 2015 03:05pm ET

Viruses related to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have infected Old World monkeys as far back as 16 million years ago, according to a new study. The research provides insight into how monkeys evolved and adapted to the simian version of HIV, and why some viruses can jump from one species to another, researchers say.

In the new study, researchers reconstructed the evolutionary history of a gene that produces a protein that protects mammals' cells from retroviruses — a group of viruses that includes HIV and its counterpart that affects monkeys, called simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). Both HIV and SIV are lentiviruses, a subset of retroviruses. With lentiviruses, it takes a relatively long time between when a person or animal is exposed to the virus and when symptoms show up. For instance, it may take two to four weeks for people infected with HIV to show flu-like symptoms, according to the U.S. Department of Health.

"HIV in humans is actually the result of an SIV jumping from chimpanzees in Africa into humans, and then adapting to humans and spreading in the human population," said study co-author Welkin Johnson, a biology professor at Boston College. The close genetic relationship between humans and monkeys allowed the virus to jump between species, Johnson said.

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