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Biotech Medicine Science

Prehistoric Gene Reawakened To Battle HIV 360

Linuss points out research published in PLoS Biology that demonstrates the reawakening of latent human cells' ability to manufacture an HIV defense. A group of scientists led by Nitya Venkataraman began with the knowledge that Old World monkeys have a built-in immunity to HIV: a protein that can prevent HIV from entering cell walls and starting an infection. They examined the human genome for any evidence of a latent gene that could manufacture such a protein, and found the capability in a stretch of what has been dismissively termed "junk DNA." "In this work, we reveal that, upon correction of the premature termination codon in theta-defensin pseudogenes, human myeloid cells produce cyclic, antiviral peptides (which we have termed 'retrocyclins'), indicating that the cells retain the intact machinery to make cyclic peptides. Furthermore, we exploited the ability of aminoglycoside antibiotics to read-through the premature termination codon within retrocyclin transcripts to produce functional peptides that are active against HIV-1. Given that the endogenous production of retrocyclins could also be restored in human cervicovaginal tissues, we propose that aminoglycoside-based topical microbicides might be useful in preventing sexual transmission of HIV-1."
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Prehistoric Gene Reawakened To Battle HIV

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  • Re:The Dilemma (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Raleel ( 30913 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @12:31PM (#28987261)

    go read the abstract. I understood that and was thinking the same thing. also along with an obligatory holy shit that's awesome.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 07, 2009 @12:34PM (#28987293)

    Someone, desperate, decides to turn on the gene to save someone, and bad things happen...

  • Re:Old world monkey (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AnotherDeadBard ( 826928 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @12:42PM (#28987401)
    Not from South America, if I remember correctly. There's a lot of genetic drift between American monkeys and monkeys found in Africa and Asia.
  • by mea37 ( 1201159 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @01:01PM (#28987637)

    ...and I know really it's too early to know, but the big question on my mind is: what sort of treatment are we talking about here?

    Can a cure for AIDS be derived from this? Or will it be a matter of "if we catch an HIV infection early, we can clear it up and minimize the damage"? Or is it only useful as a preventative measure, which seems to be where the quote in TFS is headed?

    If it's only useful as a preventative measure, then there are two big issues.

    One is how prone it would be to user error. If it's a "follow these steps every time you're going to put yourself at risk" kind of thing, then there's a concern that the increase in people's willingness to put themselves at risk exceeds the practical efficacy of the prevention. OTOH, if it's a "go to your doctor once (or once every X time period) for a professioally-administered round of protection", then that's probably less an issue.

    The other is... look, I'm all for scientific progress, and I think we should research the hell out of this, but let's not jump the gun. As evidenced by the fact that we call potentially-functional strecthes of DNA "junk", we do not understand what they do. If prehistoric animals used this sequence and we don't, there is probably a reason, be it small or large. Maybe it's as simple as "it takes cellular resources and the risk of an HIV-like attack had subsided below the break-even point" - and if that turns out to be the case, FULL SPEED AHEAD! Or maybe evolutionary pressures put the protein in disfavor because it interferes with some other aspect of modern human biology, or has some secondary effect that is harmful. Now it's hard to imagine that would weigh in as "more severe than an active HIV infection", so it might still be a useful treatment for a known case of AIDS if it can be used in that way (depending on cost/benefit vs. other AIDS treatments); but not necessarily a good preventative measure if that were to turn out to be the case.

  • Re:Huh? What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oracleofbargth ( 16602 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @01:14PM (#28987763) Homepage

    Woah, I think I'm going to need a car analogy...

    Say your car door doesn't have any manual door locks, since it was built to be all automatic, but you lost the remote a long time ago. Your car could easily be broken into or stolen, now that you can't lock the door. So, you have someone read through the engineering manual for the car to find the code the remote used, and build another one to let you lock the doors again.

  • by jhfry ( 829244 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @01:29PM (#28987965)

    I'm guessing that it's a one time treatment.

    Essentially its a cream/lotion that can be applied topically to trigger a genetic mutation of cells. These cells then reproduce in the typical fashion, which would maintain the same genetic code.

    I think they use a creme because all they really need effected are the parts that may be exposed to the virus. Otherwise they would use an engineered virus to deliver the mutation to your entire body.

    I'm just guessing, I could be way off base here.

  • by Chickan ( 1070300 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @01:40PM (#28988099)
    If we expect the common person to use this cream before sex every time it will never work, we can't even get people to use condoms! On a side note, just because you aren't fucking someone other than your SO doesn't mean they aren't. Its just sex, we all enjoy it, and we'd all be better off if we were to marry based on sexual compatibility as opposed to solely on looks/status/income.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @05:11PM (#28990999) Journal

    The other advantage of monogamy over polygyny is that, with polygyny, a few rich guys suck in a lot of the hot babes and the bulk of the males end up with a less desirable partner or none at all.

    So if they want the nerds to reproduce and raise rug-nerds to keep the infrastructure running for their heirs to milk, the ruling class needs to give up on, or at least limit the size of, their harems.

  • by WillDraven ( 760005 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:33PM (#28992547) Homepage

    Exactly. I have 3 girlfriends that i've been involved with for some time (4, 3, and 1 years). One of them has a boyfriend and one of them has a girlfriend (whom we sometimes get together with for group play.) This brings our sexual contact group to a total of 6. They all know about each other and have decided the pro's (sex with me, occasionally sex with each other) outweigh the cons (having to share, worrying about one of the others bringing in an STD, worrying about somebody getting jealous).

      Sometimes we decide to temporarily bring another person into our sexual group, but we always pass the word around and make sure they have a recent STD screening. All in all the arrangement works out for everybody involved, we're all sexually satisfied and relatively safe.

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