Simian immunodeficiency virus, better known as SIV, is an HIV precursor. In other words, this monkey- and ape-infecting virus is what HIV originated from. SIV attacks various monkeys, especially chimpanzees, but, interestingly, even infected animals are otherwise healthy. Why? Scientists from UCL say that some subspecies may have evolved a degree of tolerance to the virus.
As you already know, HIV diagnosis is bad news for people. getting infected with HIV means a whole list of health problems that are coming through the coming years. We do have medicine, however, which reduces the main risks and improves the quality of life. Meanwhile chimpanzees cannot use such technology and are generally fine. SIV infection doesn’t cause such tremendous health problems in chimpanzees.
Scientists analyzed the genomes of four subspecies of chimpanzees living in Africa. They found that the eastern chimpanzees have evolved specific genomes, encrypting immune response, which is especially effective against SIV. Dr Joshua Schmidt, the first author of the paper, said: “Only two subspecies of chimpanzees seem infected by the virus in the wild (central and eastern chimpanzees) and it is precisely those two subspecies that accumulate genetic changes in genes related to SIV infection”.
To put in more simple terms, these genetic variations created tolerance to SIV, which is unseen in humans. Chimpanzees somehow managed to evolve a particular set of immune functions that suppress the pathogenicity of SIV, making it unable to cause a disease. And, as such, scientists believe that this knowledge could be one day useful for humans trying to find a cure for HIV infections. After all, Chimpanzees are humans’ closest relatives and SIV is closely related to HIV. This knowledge could help creating some prevention techniques that could reduce the likelihood of HIV infection.
However, it is not only about humans. Chimpanzees are in danger of extinction. This is because of a variety of factors, including the loss of habitat and transmissible diseases. Learning more about how chimpanzees evolve to suppress pathogenicity of certain viruses, could aid conservation efforts.
Scientists are looking at nature searching for answers to our own problems, such as HIV epidemic. Because Chimpanzees are humans’ closest relatives, we could potentially learn a way to protect ourselves from HIV. Close to 40 million people in the world are living with HIV and many of them are destined to die from diseases caused by this infection.