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HIV began spreading at turn of twentieth century

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The most common strain of the HIV virus began spreading among humans between 1884 and 1924, not during the 1930s as previously thought, research has suggested.

Scientists from four continents screened multiple tissue samples and uncovered the world’s second-oldest genetic sequence of HIV-1 group M, dating from 1960.

They then used the information to draw up an HIV-1 family tree for the viral strain, and estimated the age of each branch.

Calculations based on genetic mutation rates showed group M took root around the turn of the 20th century.

Results were backed by 48 year-old gene fragments from a wax-embedded lymph node tissue biopsy from a woman in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This was compared with the oldest known blood sample, taken in 1959 from a man from Kinshasa. Comparison of the two samples confirmed that the amount of genetic divergence between the two samples took more than 40 years to evolve.

Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature07390 (2008).

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