Virologists discover a new strain of HIV

One of the major obstacles in the fight against HIV is the extremely high mutation rate of the virus. This is why virologists are striving to detect and study new strains of the virus in order to better understand it and develop more effective treatments; the ultimate goal being the production of a vaccine. Recently, a team of virologists discovered a new strain of HIV through improved sequencing techniques. Results that should provide a more detailed description of the virus and its mechanisms.

The researchers identified a new sub-group of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) for the first time in nearly two decades. The discovery comes from samples taken in the last 30 years in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As reported in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome , the new strain is the L subtype of the HIV-1 M group . Its existence has long been suspected, since two samples were studied, one taken in 1983 and the other in 1990.

Improved sequencing techniques for identifying new viral strains

To confirm the existence of a new strain, it is necessary to obtain three independent samples. A sample taken in 2001 had promising similarities, but it was difficult to sequence completely. But technological improvements in recent years have allowed researchers to obtain complete genomes faster and from smaller samples. This eventually allowed this team to check whether the 2001 sample was really evidence of a new strain.

The new strain of HIV (red) discovered by virologists will help to better understand the virus and its mechanisms. Credits: Yamaguchi J. et al. 2019

" Identifying new viruses like this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. By advancing our techniques and using next-generation sequencing technology, we 'remove the needle with a magnet'. We are making this new strain available to the research community to assess its impact on diagnostic tests, treatments and potential vaccines, "said Mary Rodgers, head of Abbott's global viral surveillance program.

The discovery of new strains is crucial in the fight against viruses. The new strains give viruses the ability to avoid detection during testing, to be resistant to current treatments, and to be another barrier to the difficult path to vaccine.

" This discovery reminds us that in order to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to explore this evolving virus in greater depth and use the latest advances in technology and resources to monitor its evolution, " says Carole McArthur. from the University of Missouri, Kansas.


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