Scientists have pinpointed where HIV originated

Oct 11, 2014


By Fiona MacDonald

A team of scientists led by Oxford University in the UK and the University of Leuven in Belgium has reconstructed the genetic history of the HIV-1 group M pandemic, which is the strain that affects the world today.

The research has revealed that the common ancestor of the group M strain originated in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, between 1909 and 1930, and also explained some of the circumstances that led to it becoming the pandemic that’s now infected almost 75 million people to date. Their research is published in the journal Science.

“Until now most studies have taken a piecemeal approach to HIV’s genetic history, looking at particular HIV genomes in particular locations,” said Oliver Pybus, the senior author of the paper from Oxford University, in a press release.

“For the first time we have analysed all the available evidence using the latest phylogeographic techniques, which enable us to statistically estimate where a virus comes from. This means we can say with a high degree of certainty where and when the HIV pandemic originated.”

Once this origin spot was determined, the scientists were able to compare them to historical data, and confirmed that the spread of HIV-1 from Kinshasa followed a predictable pattern.

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19 comments on “Scientists have pinpointed where HIV originated

  • The big question is can we rule out any human actions that may have helped spread the virus? For example did non-sterile innocculations spread it. Can any sort of genetic manipulation be ruled out?

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  • 2
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    ….between 1909 to 1930…

    So the virus has been around for much longer than originally thought. I never cease to be impressed by the power of science when it comes to discovering and uncovering such difficult to find details. Amazing work.

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  • It hasn’t been confirmed: “New research suggests”, is what the original article says. Notwithstanding that, the only human activity that can possibly discover the source for certain is scientific inquiry.

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  • 7
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    “This means we can say with a high degree of certainty where and when the HIV pandemic originated”

    Sounds like a bit more than a mere hunch to me.

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  • It is more than a hunch; and it is indeed the result of amazing work. There’s enough evidence to suggest that what they expect to find will in fact materialize, but, it hasn’t yet been proved definitively, that’s all I’m saying.

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  • What a crock! God has nothing to do with anything. There is no god nor is there a heaven or hell. We can have hell here and we are responsible for our own actions. We are just a higher form of animal.

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  • 13
    Cameron says:

    I believe the only reason it’s originated in the Congo is because it came from a plant. That’s just me though. People make assumptions so quickly on what it means that it “originated” somewhere.

    There’s a typo, by the way: “HIV actually transferred from monkeys and apes into humans at least 13 times that scientists are aware of of…”

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  • Few things in science are “proved definitively” until decades have passed. It’s a little churlish to say “it hasn’t been confirmed” – scientists very, very rarely claim certainty on anything so I don’t know why you’re over-emphasising the doubt & uncertainty.

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  • Why do you believe it came from a plant? That sounds incredibly far-fetched; diseases rarely cross the species barrier, never mind the Kingdom barrier!

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  • HIV actually transferred from monkeys and apes into humans at least 13 times that scientists are aware of of, but only one of these events led to the human pandemic.

    After seeing Gorillas in the Mist I always viewed Dian Fossey as a ground zero suspect that bridged the gap.

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  • @Cameron:
    HIV is a virus that infects white blood cells (aka. T-cells). To be very specific; The HIV virus recognizes and infects cells with a surface protein called CD4. This is not theory or speculation btw. After the virus recognizes this specific cell, it then crosses the cell barrier and takes over the DNA processing of that cell in order to make loads of copies of itself. This is how a virus works.

    Plants do not have blood and they certainly don’t have blood cells. Plants do not have cells with the CD4 protein and plants don’t have mammalian immune cells. I’m sadly not confident that you will ever fully accept this Cameron. Your HIV plant theory is somewhat flawed.

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