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Mutation & Recombination

Dec 14, 1996

Hello Dr Sowasky, thank you for your help on this very difficult topic, I have a question, There are many viruses uot there many of them can recombinate & mutate, I've read that the aids virus did mutate to VIH I, VIH II, & most recently to VIH III, my question is Why can't this virus recombine? & If it's related to the not segmented genomes. "Muchas gracias" for your answer.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

First of all, for those of you who speak only English, VIH is how we say HIV in Spanish, French, and some other languages. So VIH-1 is the same as HIV-1 (in several languages). I have not seen anything talking about an HIV-3. However, years back, HIV-1 was called HTLV-III.

It is believed that sometime in the late 1950's to early 1960's, the monkey AIDS virus, SIV, did evolve into HIV. SIV and HIV have a very similar genetic makeup.

Like any other life form, viruses cannot just combine in any combination. Only similar genes can interact with other similar genes. And genetic recombination is a rare event in genetics of this type. And as far as mutations are concerned, most mutations are harmful to the existence of a life form (including viruses). Therefore, the majority of mutations in genes are selected against, especially genes that code for essential life functions. It is only the rare mutation that survives to allow characteristic changes in a virus. So for SIV to evolve to HIV, took a lot of time and mutations. This is a slow and rare event in nature.

For HIV to recombine with other viruses would be extremely unusual in nature, especially given the extremely complex nature of the HIV genome. Therefore, most mutations and recombinations that affect essential changes in the characteristics of the virus (like what hosts it lives in, transmission capabilities etc.) are very unlikely to occur. Changes such as these are the rare exception to the vast majority of mutations and recombinations that occur to the genome. However, some mutations, like drug resistance mutations, help HIV survive in a host, and are therefore selected for, and occur much more commonly.

I hope this made at least a little sense to you.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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