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HIV’s Ancestors May Have Plagued First Mammals

The retroviruses which gave rise to HIV have been battling it out with mammal immune systems since mammals first evolved around 100 million years ago – about 85 million years earlier than previously thought, scientists now believe.

The remains of an ancient HIV-like virus have been discovered in the genome of the two-toed sloth [Choloepus hoffmanni] by a team led by Oxford University scientists who publish a report of their research in this week’s Science.

'Finding the fossilised remains of such a virus in this sloth is an amazing stroke of luck,’ said Dr Aris Katzourakis from Oxford’s Department of Zoology and the Institute for Emergent Infections, James Martin 21st Century School. ‘Because this sloth is so geographically and genetically isolated its genome gives us a window into the ancient past of mammals, their immune systems, and the types of viruses they had to contend with.’
 
 

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