Cross-species HIV infection is a real threat, study confirms

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Original press release was issued by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, written by Scott Schrage

There is definitely more to the ancestry between primates and humans than simple evolution curve. We may share very similar body structure, behavioral traits or even resemblance, but a recent study led by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln presents evidence that chimpanzee-carried simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs), considered by the virologists to be ancestors of HIV, can infect human cells.

“Bill Gates recently said that nuclear war is no longer the (biggest) threat to our safety; emerging infectious diseases are. That’s probably true.” said┬ásenior author Qingsheng Li, associate professor of biological sciences and member of the Nebraska Center for Virology.

It is not exactly known how it came to be. However, it is believed that sometime in the early 1900’s, a hunter of bush meat acquired the first strain of SIVs through a cut or bite wound. Scientists supported the possibility of cross-species infection by reporting the first in vivo evidence of ancestral HIV strains, the HIV-1M (responsible for the global HIV pandemic) and another HIV strain found only among residents of Cameroon, infecting the human cells.

Interestingly enough, researchers further discovered that the SIV ancestors of two HIV strains, previously not identified in humans also managed to invade human cells after multiple exposures in the lab.

“The question was whether SIV strains that have not been found in humans have the potential to cause another HIV-like infection.┬áThe answer is that, actually, they do. They get replicated at a very high level. It’s surprising.” said Li.

Li and his colleagues based their conclusions on experiments involving inoculating separate groups of mice, which were implanted with human tissues and stem cells. They found out, that the forerunners of HIV-1M and the Cameroon strain required fewer opportunities to infect the mice than did the two SIV strains, previously not found in humans. “The team also found evidence, that SIV strains mutate upon entering cells to overcome human-specific barriers to infection.” said Li.

According to Li and lead author Zhe Yuan, a doctoral student in biological sciences, the recent outbreak of Zika virus (discovered in 1947 in a monkey) underscores the value of pre-emptively identifying viruses that can jump from animals to humans.

New epidemics and pandemics pose a great threat for the global world. Therefore, it is vital for researchers to adopt the eagerness of the authors behind this study to showcase theirs in the battle against the ever growing occurrence of various infectious and zoonotic diseases.

Michal Madaras

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