Jun
23
2007

A Retroviral Tradeoff

Pan troglodytes endogenous retrovirus, is perhaps perhaps the coolest named virus. It also may be responsible for humans’ susceptibility to HIV.
A Chimp: Yeah, well at least we won't be catching pan troglodytes any time soon. So look smug about that, chimp.    (photo by AZAdam)
A Chimp: Yeah, well at least we won't be catching pan troglodytes any time soon. So look smug about that, chimp. (photo by AZAdam)

Long extinct, Pan troglodytes (or PtERV1) infected chimps, gorillas, and old world monkeys around four million years ago. Being a retrovirus, PtERV1 left its specific mark on the DNA of these species. Our DNA, however, shows no evidence that humans (or some of our immediate ancestors) were ever infected by the deadly PtERV1. This lead scientists to wonder weather humans had developed some natural resistance to the ancient disease.

Using chimp DNA, scientists reconstructed a small part of the dead virus. When human cells were then exposed to the partial virus, the researchers found that the human antiviral protein TRIM5a neutralized the PtERV1. However, when TRIM5a was reengineered to be more effective against HIV, it lost its resistance PtERV1.

So… in developing a defense against this ancient monkey virus, we became vulnerable to HIV. What a remarkable world.

If my explanation wasn’t good enough…

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