Genetic Comparison Traces Origins of HIV to African Chimpanzees

Lauran Neergaard of the AP in the Chicago Tribune:

Solving the mystery of HIV’s ancestry was dirty work. But researchers now have confirmed that the virus that causes AIDS in humans really did originate in wild chimpanzees–in a corner of Cameroon.

Scientists have long known that captive chimps carry their own version of the AIDS virus, SIV or simian immunodeficiency virus. But it was extraordinarily hard to find in wild chimpanzees, complicating efforts to pin down just how the virus could have made the jump from animal to man.

Fitting that final piece of the puzzle required seven years of research just to develop tests to genetically trace the virus in living wild chimps without hurting the endangered species. Then trackers had to plunge through the dense forests of West Africa and scrape up fresh ape feces, more than 1,300 samples in all.

Until now, “no one was able to look. No one had the tools,” said Dr. Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She led the team of international researchers that reported the success in Thursday’s online edition of the journal Science.

“We’re 25 years into this pandemic,” Hahn said. “We don’t have a cure. We don’t have a vaccine. But we know where it came from.”

More here.