When did HIV jump from chimps to humans?

7 Oct

This week we read a paper published in Science in 2000 that attempted to estimate the date associated with the most recent common ancestor of the M group of HIV-1. This is of interest because it is likely that the jump of the virus from chimps to humans happened around the same time. The main conclusion of the paper is that HIV likely jumped to humans in the first half of the 20th century, long before the HIV epidemic was noticed.

Just after we read it, a new paper came out in Science about the same topic (link), so maybe we’ll read that too!

Here is some of the homework done by the students in my class.

Graphical Abstract


Bradley Bowser

Summarize the paper using only the 1000 most common words of the English language

The paper wanted to understand the beginning and age of a type[1] of bad thing[1] that causes people to be sick[2]. They did this by using strong computers to guess the age of the last family group of the bad thing[1]. The paper believes that the bad thing[1] can be followed back all the way to the US sad time[3]. The paper didn’t find out how the bad thing[1] jumped from animal[4] to person. Some people thought that the bad thing started to cause people to be sick because some doctors used animals[5] carrying the bad thing[1] when they worked to help sick people. However, the paper found that the bad thing[1] that causes people to be sick was present before doctors worked to help sick people.

  1. HIV-1 group M
  2. AIDS
  3. First half of the 20th century (around US depression era)
  4. Primate (Chimpanzee)
  5. Chimpanzee kidney cell cultures, which some believe were used in polio vaccine stocks administered in Africa between 1957-1960

Eduardo Lujan

Who are the authors of the paper?

The first author, Bette Korber, is a current laboratory fellow and former staff scientist in the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics group at Los Alamos National Laboratory where she started in 1990. She received her PhD in immunology from Caltech, and did her first postdoc in retrovirology at Harvard before heading to New Mexico. She has been incredibly prolific, often appearing on > 10 papers/year, and the vast majority of her best-cited papers are related to HIV and its concomitant immunological responses as well as vaccine development.

The last author is Tanmoy Bhattacharya, a PhD physicist who did his doctoral work at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai before ultimately landing at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the early 1990s as a postdoc and now staff scientist. Also, as of 2006, a professor at the Santa Fe Institute, his research interests are diverse, including investigations of phenomena related to quantum field theory, hadronic physics, and – importantly for this paper – large scale computation as applied to phylogenetics. Many of his most recent papers, in fact, are within the realm of phylogenetic analysis, although he has maintained a hand in physics throughout his publication history.

Graham Larue

Write two tweets about the paper


Peter Manzo 

2 Responses to “When did HIV jump from chimps to humans?”


  1. A reading seminar where every student reads, writes and contributes to the discussion in class | Being A Better Scientist - January 16, 2015

    […] English language turned out to be very hard, but some of the students did a great job (see here and here). The graphical abstract was also hard for some students, but others liked it just because it was […]

  2. 15 papers on contemporary evolution in human viruses | Being A Better Scientist - June 1, 2015

    […] outbreak), here (Dengue), here (Ebola), here (HIV in court), here (doing my own homework), here (the origin of HIV), here (on bad small things) and here (Hep […]

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