For the first time in almost 19 years, scientists have discovered a new subtype of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), AFP reported on Thursday November 7th.
Luckily, cutting-edge genome sequencing is helping researchers stay ahead of mutations. Genome sequencing is the process of determining the complete DNA sequence of an organism's genome. A genome is the complete set of genes and genetic material in a cell or organism.
US healthcare company Abbott laboratories told AFP that the strain, HIV-1 Group M subtype L, has been recorded in three blood samples taken between the 1980s and 2001 in the DR Congo.
According to the guidelines for classifying subtypes, three cases must be discovered independently to classify a new subtype.
Group M is the most prevalent form of the HIV-1 virus, while sub-type L is currently the 10th of this group. It was the first type to be identified since the guidelines were issued in 2000.
According to research, antiretroviral drugs, which reduce the viral load of an HIV carrier, have performed well against a variety of sub-types. However, different subtypes have different drug resistances.
"Since subtype L is part of the major group of HIV, Group M, I would expect current treatments to work with it," said Mary Rodgers, a principal scientist and head of the Global Viral Surveillance Program at Abbott.
She added that Abbott was making the sequence available to the research community to evaluate its impact on diagnostic testing, treatments and potential vaccines, stressing that "we must continue to out-think the virus."
Next-generation sequencing technology allowed scientists to build up an entire genome at higher speed and lower cost, which paved the way for the new discovery.