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Biotech Science

Scientists Expose Weak DNA in HIV 196

Ace905 writes "The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced Thursday that they had discovered a very promising 'weak spot' in the HIV virus. The HIV virus, a progenitor to full blown AIDS has eluded all attempts at a vaccine since it was discovered sometime in the 1970's. The major problem with developing a vaccine initially was isolating the virus. Conventional viruses are often defeated with existing drugs, or after being tested against new compounds. HIV has been unique, and staggering in it's ability to resist all attempts at treatment by mutating its own genetic code. HIV is able to resist, with great effectiveness, any drug or combination drug-therapy that is used against it."
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Scientists Expose Weak DNA in HIV

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  • I have a feeling it will just change it self again, this little bugger is a diehard
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 17, 2007 @10:48AM (#18051500)
    Transmitted through the sharing of unsterilized ATM machines, IC circuits, LCD displays and PIN numbers, the HIV virus is a deadly threat to humanity.
    • Insightful and funny -- not to mention insightful and funny.

      This message brought to you by the department of redundancy department's department of redundancy.
    • by dave420 ( 699308 )
      Thank you! You beat me to it :) -1 for allowing the apostrophe in "1970's", though :-P
  • Easy... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Karganeth ( 1017580 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @10:49AM (#18051518)
    Attack it's weak spot for massive damage.
  • by Gufry ( 803129 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @10:50AM (#18051524)
    The story that is referenced in the BBC news article refers to the structure of an antibody binding the gp120 surface glycoprotein of HIV. This has nothing to do with 'weak' DNA. The reason why this is exciting is that the b12 region is relatively invariable, whereas most antibodies made against HIV bind variable regions of the surface glycoproteins that are prone to change from virus to virus as the genome is mutated. The majority of anti-HIV antibodies are therefore only useful against specific isolates and can be easily escaped by mutation. Antibodies against the b12 region are therefore potential vaccine candidates.
    • by Gary W. Longsine ( 124661 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @11:25AM (#18051862) Homepage Journal
      The article summary needs further assistance. AIDS was identified in 1981. [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by hey ( 83763 )
        You trust Wikipedia more than the BBC?
        • When it comes to reporting on biological sciences, I trust my dog Fido more than I trust the BBC.

          1. The BBC article linked says nothing about HIV being discovered in the 1970. RTFA.

          2. HIV was discovered in the 1983/1984 timeframe. Who discovered it first is the basis of a long standing dispute between Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier. Google it.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            Regarding your 2nd point, and your "err, 1983/84", please allow me to disambiguate.

            The Wikipedia article refers to the discovery of AIDS, which is the modern label applied to the clusters of disease cases with similar histories and symptoms which first identified (apparently) in 1981, although it seems some doctors and researchers were aware of unusual disease clusters for a few years leading up to that point. Recognition of AIDS as a disease led to researchers looking for a cause, which led to the subs
            • by Ace905 ( 163071 )

              I made a mistake when I said it was discovered sometime in the 1970's. What I meant was, sometime in the 1970's the first few victims of the disease discovered they were deathly ill, and then died, after taking antibiotics and cold and flu medicine. Therefore, we have been fighting the disease since the first known infection and people 'discovered' it when they got it.

              My write-up does imply it was 'identified by scientists' in the 1970's and that's not what I meant, but it was 4am.

              It sounds r
              • by bjohnson ( 3225 )
                Actually, when we started looking back for the origins of the disease, people started dying in largish numbers of a mysterious 'wasting disease' very similar to AIDS in Central Africa in the late 50's and early 60's.

                HIV antibodies were found in a blood sample of a British sailor who died in 1956 or '57, iirc, and there are scattered reports of a similar disease occurring in remote villages going as far back as the 30's, which is actually the suspected time frame for when the simian analog to HIV, SIV, first
        • Clearly you read neither my comment, which clearly refers to the article summary (a Slashdot feature) which incorrectly states that AIDS was discovered "sometime in the 1970's" nor the BBC article, which doesn't mention when AIDS was discoverd. I recalled from prior reading on the topic that AIDS was discovered in the 1980s. Wikipedia happened to get that one right, so I used it as the link. I also noticed that this particular Wikipedia article is extensively referenced.

          Go trust yourself.
        • by Lars T. ( 470328 )

          You trust Wikipedia more than the BBC?
          No, he trusts Wikipedia more than the article summary (which he specifically mentions). If you had actually RTFA, it doesn't make all those stupid claims the summary does.

          Imagine, I long back for the time when the summary simply copied parts of the article instead of making up stuff.

      • by capebretonsux ( 758684 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @12:09PM (#18052208)
        You're partly right. It was in 1981 when the disease was discovered/recognized. It was 1982 when the CDC renamed the disease 'AIDS'. Before that, it was known as GRID. (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) The causitive virus itself wasn't discovered until 1983, and wasn't renamed 'HIV' until 1986.

        (Splitting hairs, I know, but it's early and I haven't had my coffee yet...)
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by karnal ( 22275 )
          At first I thought you were joking - the name "Gay-Related Immune Deficiency" just sounded made up. Turns out I'm mistaken:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_Related_Immune_Di sease [wikipedia.org]

          Link works, Slash puts the space in for display purposes.....
          • It would be soooo funny if it were still call "Gay-Related Immune Deficiency" ... especially now that the majority of the afflicted are heterosexual women. I'm laughing just thinking about it.

            It really does sound totally made up. Like something that an insane southern christian would think of to put on a poorly-made sign at a rally.

      • I was surprised to learn from this article summary that the virus that causes AIDS was discovered "sometime in the 1970s", even though the syndrome hadn't even been observed by physicians until the early 1980s. I guess neither Gallo nor Montagnier should get credit for discovering LAV/HTLV/HIV, since they didn't isolate it and identify it as the probable cause of AIDS until around 1983.

        The 1970s and 1980s were very different decades. The 1970s were the decade in which gay people came out of the closet
    • by picob ( 1025968 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @11:58AM (#18052146)

      Antibodies against the b12 region are therefore potential vaccine candidates

      b12 is a family of human antibodies that targets this viral protein gp120. gp120 is therefore the candidate for the vaccine. For vaccines we usually just inject viral protein(s) - as we would in this case - or a weak or dead form of the virus, and let the body make the antibodies (the b12 family in this case).

      The talk about 'region' in this article probably refers to a site on the RNA of the virus: this region, encoding protein gp120, is not much changed by mutations - HIV codes genes in RNA since it's a retrovirus.

      Also, since HIV targets the immune system, when someone has AIDS - the later stages of the disease in which the immune system is broken (targeted by HIV are T-cells) - vaccination may no longer work, since the immune system is no longer capable of producing antibodies, unless the T-cell count can be brought back to a level in which antibodies can be made.
      • so in the line of getting chicken pox to protect against small pox, what other viruses have gp120 or stimulate the production of b12 antibodies? Maybe a virus needs to be engineered: easy to beat, easy to spread, and provides immune systems with the right tools to potentially kill HIV.
      • Aren't antibodies a B cell thing?
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by picob ( 1025968 )
          yes, antibodies are produced by B-cells, but T-cells are required to enable B-cells to produce antibodies. In specific T-helper cells (CD4+) are targeted by HIV. from wiki:

          When a B cell ingests a pathogen, it attaches parts of the pathogen's proteins to a class II MHC protein. This complex is moved to the outside of the cell membrane, where it can be recognized by a T lymphocyte, which is compatible with similar structures on the cell membrane of a B lymphocyte. If the B cell and T cell structures match, th

      • Also, since HIV targets the immune system, when someone has AIDS - the later stages of the disease in which the immune system is broken (targeted by HIV are T-cells) vaccination may no longer work, since the immune system is no longer capable of producing antibodies, unless the T-cell count can be brought back to a level in which antibodies can be made.

        Can you even use a vaccine after-the-fact? I thought the point of such was something akin to forewarning one's immune system ahead of time, training it on
        • by Luyseyal ( 3154 )
          Some vaccines can be used after the fact. It just depends on the nature of the vaccine and the virus it targets.
    • HIV is a retrovirus. It has no DNA, but only RNA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrovirus/ [wikipedia.org]
    • by BillX ( 307153 )
      Maybe they meant weak in the sense of 'weak key vulnerability'. Kind of a stretch, but in each case the 'protection' comes from something constantly changing to unique values, and there's an exploitable weakness produced by this not happening as it should. This is Slashdot, after all...
    • My question would also be: how do they test it in humans. I'd imagine they can combine infected and uninfected blood in a lab (with both vaccinated and non-vaccinated samples), but who's going to be the first live test? My guess would be a loving partner with an infected spouse (note that not all infections come from having sex with an infectee, there have been cases of tainted blood transfusions etc)

      I suppose in the end people will get it just to be safe, as well, but the first while will be interesting.
  • To patent this... and patent the part of the virus in question.

    The Pfizer receptor!!!
    • by LordEd ( 840443 )
      Patenting a virus... Would that mean I could sue them for their patent infringing on me? It sounds too much like a Soviet Russia joke (patent infringes you?)
      • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
        Patenting a virus...

        (doorbell rings)
        Black suited goon: Hi, I'm Jack from the CDC. We'd like to have a little talk with you about "your" virus, care to accompany me to my office?
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
      The Pfizer receptor!!!

            Unfortunately the Pfizer receptor activates the Roche second messenger that has to go through the Merck gateway in the nucleus to bind to the Schering site on the DNA molecule. I doubt your drug will work...
  • Great, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @10:54AM (#18051560) Homepage
    How many "this could be the cure for AIDS/Cancer/Virginity" articles get posted on /. every month?

    I'll believe it when the treatment actually gets used to eradicate the disease.

    Guess I'll go back to holding my breath.
    • How many "this could be the cure for AIDS/Cancer/Virginity" articles get posted on /. every month?
      There would be less dupes, but they have the same genetic make up as the HIV virus and are able to mutate their own content, making them difficult to catch...
    • I think there's already a cure for virginity ... most people become immune naturally by the time they're twenty or so, but for a modest fee one can be cured at any local brothel.

      Hey, if we eliminate virginity on a mass-scale, wont Muslims be pretty fucked? The supply of virgins has to be pretty robust to support the martyrdom industry. Wont somebody pleeease think of the Muslims?

  • Although it may be adaptive, as a strain or population, surely no one is claiming that individual virus are able to change in any way?

    Imho, science has no place for such literary free license.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah, pretending that HIV "does" things intentionally to avoid vaccination is highly misleading. The problem is that viruses in general replicate quickly, and HIV in particular mutates very quickly from one generation to the next, while remaining viable. This lets an infection explore the parameter space of possible genotypes very fast. To be effective, a treatment needs to target some relatively stable feature of the virus, and eliminate the virus faster than the population can mutate away from that vul
    • by Lars T. ( 470328 )

      Although it may be adaptive, as a strain or population, surely no one is claiming that individual virus are able to change in any way?

      Imho, science has no place for such literary free license.

      "The virus is able to mutate rapidly to avoid detection by the immune system, and is also swathed by a near-impenetrable cloak of sugary molecules which block access by antibodies.

      But certain parts of the virus must remain relatively unchanged so that it can continue to bind to and enter human cells."

    • Attributing human characteristics to posters like you is also a little bit of free license. Yes, the individual virii are able to change and adapt, because that is quite clearly what the article says. The composition of the 'shell' of the virus is sugar-based, with the compositional molecules constantly changing to prevent any specific, mass-produced biological defense from penetrating the shell. The one region in question, though, has the same composition regardless of the changing morphology around it,
  • Fact check? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yellowstone ( 62484 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @10:59AM (#18051618) Homepage Journal

    The HIV virus [...] was discovered sometime in the 1970's
    The first case of AIDS was reported in 1981; the HIV virus was discovered in 1983 (reference [nih.gov]) One day you kids will learn all those super-secret ways of finding stuff on teh intraweb [google.com]...
    • Re:Fact check? (Score:5, Informative)

      by DrKyle ( 818035 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @11:19AM (#18051804)

      Scientists Expose Weak DNA in HIV

      This is about finding a stable surface protein on the surface of HIV which may be a good target for the production of an antigen which would elicit a stable immune response as a number of people have antibodies which target the same site. This has nothing to do with DNA, the submitter is just biologically illiterate.
      • Re:Fact check? (Score:4, Informative)

        by elyons ( 934748 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @01:25PM (#18052944) Homepage
        Also, HIV is a retrovirus. For this family of viruses, their genome spends the majority of its time, and especially as an infectious particle, as RNA. It is only after infraction does its genome get replicated into DNA (through a process known as reverse transcription using a virally encoding RNA dependent DNA polymerase known as reverse transcriptase.) After being copied into DNA, the pro-virus is then inserted into the host's genome where RNA molecules are made (transcribed) to make viral proteins and full length copies of its genome for packaging into new infectious viral particles. This is a very import aspect of the virus' life-cycle and has many implications for some of the anti-retroviral therapies [wikipedia.org] on the market.
        • by Fizzl ( 209397 )
          Damn, that sounds cool. Almost as exciting as computer stuff before I knew it. Maybe I should switch careers.
          Do they hire self-taught "bioengineering guru's" now like they used to hire software people back in the day? :P
    • by maxume ( 22995 )
      If it was labeled in 1981, it seems reasonable to me that there was somebody treating something and looking for a name for it in 1979.

      (the wording of the summary is indeed awkward)
  • Rejoice (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The owners of roughly 1 million Slashdot accounts rejoice as they hear the news: They can now fuck around without fear of AIDS!
  • what BS... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Conventional viruses are often defeated with existing drugs, or after being tested against new compounds

    Not at all. Viruses are extremely, extremely difficult to defeat. There is a reason cold & flu are still around.

    How many drugs are effective against viruses? Very, very few.
    • ... and they're called anti-viral drugs. Amazing, no?
      • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
        they're called anti-viral drugs.

              Anti viral drugs like acyclovir, valcyclovir, foscarnet, amantadine, etc at best slow down viral replication and limit the damage done by the virus. They do NOT eliminate the virus, nor do they "cure" a person's viral infection.
    • by Ace905 ( 163071 )
      This is insightful?

      Have you ever heard of the flu vaccine - released every single year? The one that cures the flu and it's mutations, every single year?

      It _cures_ the flu, in it's specific mutations. If you could do that with AIDS you would have to be re-infected for it to come back.

      See the difference? I think curing 1 virus every year is pretty impressive.

      can't cure this! [douginadress.com]
      • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )
        No, it doesn't cure the flu. The vaccine will do almost nothing if you are already infected.

        It will prevent you from getting it in the first place, but won't cure it once you already have it.
  • Fully 1/10th of sub-Saharan Africans are at risk. It's already created the largest ophan population since the Spanish Flu of 1918 (my great-granparents died in that one). I hope the antigen attack trials go quickly and smoothly, and the vaccine gets into circulation post-haste.

    After that's done, there's still TB, malaria, thypoid, cholera, and unmitigated greed to go after.
  • Choose wisely (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Joebert ( 946227 )
    Over 30 years & only a single weak spot is discovered.
    Do you destroy it, or learn to get it to work in your favor ?
  • by MsGeek ( 162936 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @11:39AM (#18051980) Homepage Journal
    ...that when I RTFA, the only thing I could think of was the Yavin briefing on the Death Star?

    "Great shot, kid, that was one-in-a-million!"

    God, I'm geeky...
    • ...that when I RTFA, the only thing I could think of was the Yavin briefing on the Death Star?

      Oh, that debriefing. I was mixed up for a minute and thought you meant this one [youtube.com].

  • Not DNA, RNA (Score:4, Informative)

    by theshibboleth ( 968645 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @12:07PM (#18052202)
    HIV is a retrovirus so any weak spots would be found in the RNA, not the nonexistent DNA. Interestingly, the BBC decided to sidestep this issue by not mentioning any nucleic acids at all.
  • You mean... (Score:5, Funny)

    by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @12:22PM (#18052332) Journal

    You mean this vast plague upon mankind has a single point of failure? Wow! They really are close then. I suggest two possible courses of action from here: 1. Figure out how to plug a Powerbook into it, then type furiously. 2. Fly along the equator of the virus at top speed and fire into its exhaust port.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      fire into its exhaust port

      Er... isn't this supposedly the cause of the problem, at least according to Fox news?

  • HIV is an RNA virus, NOT a DNA virus. Medical science knows a lot about treating DNA based viruses; But there are little to no treatments for RNA viruses. HIV has caused researchers to consider the RNA cycle, also. I wish them luck, and good hunting.
    • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @02:04PM (#18053308)
      More specifically, HIV is a retrovirus. This means that as a standalone virus it contains RNA, but when it enters a cell, it uses reverse transcriptase to transcribe its RNA sequence into the equivalent DNA strand, which the cell's normal transcription/translation mechanism picks up and turns into the proteins and RNA that make the virus work.

      It's the reverse transcription process that has a high error rate, which is why HIV's rate of mutation is so high. This results in a lot of nonviable DNA, but the virus takes years to work anyway. Eventually, some of these mutations result in a change in the proteins that are attacked by the various HIV drugs so that those drugs no longer work.

      As for whether your statement about knowledge in treating various types of viruses is true or not, I don't know, but scientists do know an awful lot about HIV in particular. Each drug is meant to target a specific protein coded by the virus's genome. Being able to use drugs to target a "weak spot" (a spot that is brittle versus mutation) in the genome directly would be a major coup against the virus. This would be a great application for the grid computing mentioned in an earlier /. article. [slashdot.org]

  • HIV has been unique, and staggering in it's ability to resist all attempts at treatment by mutating its own genetic code.

    Hey, at least if you try it both ways, you'll be right half the time.

    Hint: Possessive its has no apostrophe.
    • by Ace905 ( 163071 )
      My post was actually edited, I don't know how. I did put in an apostrophe, after the s - its' , which is a strange way i was taught to apostrophize possessive its'. Canadian English? Or a bad grade 1 teacher?

      Bad teacher! bad! [douginadress.com]
  • >The major problem with developing a vaccine initially was isolating the virus.

    OK, has HIV been isolated yet? Last I heard, no.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll invite himself over for dinner. - Calvin Keegan