HIV/AIDS Emerged as Early as 1880s

Fascinating discovery: Nature reports that a new study by an international team of geneticists shows the HIV virus emerged about 30 years earlier than once believed.

From National Geographic News:

Until now it was thought that HIV-1 Group M, the strain of HIV that causes the most infections worldwide, originated in 1930 in Cameroon.

Epidemic levels of AIDS and HIV-1 infections started appearing in Leopoldville, Belgian Congo now Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, around 1960.

Findings from the new study, however, suggest that the virus most likely started circulating among humans in sub-Saharan Africa sometime between 1884 and 1924.

Worobey and his colleagues made the discovery while analyzing tissue samples collected between 1958 and 1960 from Kinshasa. One of them, acquired in 1960, contained bits of HIV-1 RNA, the viruss genetic material.

The researchers compared the 1960 virus with the oldest known HIV-1 strain, which was obtained in 1959 and evolved independently of the 1960 variant. They found that the 1960 version was significantly different.

Cool news, but some wonder what’s the point. Nature, the first publication to break the news tells us their answer: “Researchers hope that by studying the origin and evolution of HIV, they can learn more about how the virus made the leap from chimpanzees to humans, and work out how best to design a vaccine to fight it.”

Sounds worthwhile, don’t you think?


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