June 13, 2003 in Current Events

Researchers Trace the Ancestry of AIDS

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Now if only they could find a cure.

Researchers Track Down AIDS Virus to Monkeys
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By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – European and U.S. researchers tracking the origins of the AIDS (news – web sites) virus said on Friday they had traced it to monkeys in Africa later eaten by chimpanzees who were then butchered by humans for meat.
Four years ago, the same researchers argued humans probably got the AIDS virus from chimpanzees carrying the simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV, the precursor to the HIV virus (news – web sites).
“This highlights some parallels between chimpanzees and humans in that humans have acquired HIV (news – web sites) by eating and butchering chimpanzees and chimps have got SIV by eating monkeys,” Paul Sharp, a genetics professor at the University of Nottingham in England, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
SIVs are a large family of viruses carried by many species of monkeys in Africa but chimpanzees are the only apes known to be naturally infected.
Sharp and researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Duke University, Tulane University and the University of Montpellier in France published their findings in Friday’s edition of Science magazine.

Chimps do not get sick from HIV and understanding why this happens could help in duplicating resistance in humans to AIDS symptoms. Chimps are genetically very similar to humans.
“It would be very interesting to know why these chimpanzees do not get sick,” said Sharp.
Some 20 million to 25 million people have died of AIDS and at least 40 million more are infected with HIV. There is no vaccine and no cure, although drugs can extend lives.
Sharp said the chimpanzee was found to be infected by a hybrid virus that came from the red-capped mangabey and the greater spot-nosed monkeys.
“This makes sense, as for this event to occur you would have to have a case where a single host individual — a chimpanzee — is infected with both viruses. Chimps can then act as a route from monkeys to humans,” said Sharp.
Citing from a related study by the researchers appearing in the Journal of Virology in July, Sharp said they had also found the SIV virus was less common in wild chimpanzees than in monkeys.
In addition, while monkeys may have been infected with SIVs for hundreds of years, Sharp said research indicated chimpanzees acquired SIV much more recently.

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