Do you know HIV virus originated in Africa from monkeys 32000 years ago?

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HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus causes AIDS has affected millions of people around the world. HIV affects the immune system of an individual and hence diminishes ability to fight against common diseases like cold. HIV was detected in humans in 20th century, but a new research reports that it was prevalent in monkeys for last 32,000 years. The virus, which existed in money is a variant of HIV and is called simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV).

How do researchers know SIV existed in money for so long?
Research team led by the University of Arizona and the Tucson and Tulane National Primate Research Center tested and analyzed DNA of 79 monkeys from Bioko, a volcanic island off the coast of West Africa. The reseach was reported in the Science magazine.

The research revealed that six money species exist at Bioko and four of them had SIV. According to the scientists:

  • all four strains were at least 10,000 years old
  • calculation based on molecular clock of virus, i.e. its rate of mutation, estimated that the virus may have existed between 32,000 and 78,000 years ago.

I think, it is pretty amazing discovery.

Why HIV showed up in humans since 20th century?
This is one of the basic questions, which comes into mind, since tribes in African have been hunting money since ages. The matter of fact is, when you are hunting, any cut you have in your skin is potential for the virus to infect. The leading theories put forth by scientists include:

  • Bioko was at the end of a peninsula attached to the mainland in what is now Cameroon, but it was cut off when sea levels rose 10,000 years ago...



    at the end of the last ice age.
  • humans who butchered the infected monkeys, did put themselves at risk of infection from a mutated form. But because the infected people in Africa were fairly isolated, the chances for an epidemic were small.
  • explosive growth of African cities and wide spread use of cheap syringes lead to its spread in the 20th century.

The reason does seem plausible; though it would be difficult to know the exact cause.

The research also explained that the moneys had tens and thousands of years to adapt to this virus and hence the monkeys that are infected with SIV do not get sick.

Another question, which comes to my mind is, if monkeys can adapt to the SIV virus in thousands of years, can molecular scientists develop the mutant gene in the lab, that can help humans to get resistant to HIV virus. None-the-less, the research is interesting and to some extent gives the root of HIV virus.

Source:  NY Times

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