HIV was discovered in 1983, two years after AIDS first hit the headlines. Yet by this time the virus had been infecting humans for around 100 years. Starting in a single person it had already spread globally when AIDS first came to light. To date it has infected 60-80 million and killed 25 million in one of the largest pandemics ever known. This talk relates the fascinating scientific detective work that eventually revealed the past history of this killer virus. In a 30 year quest scientists have uncovered exactly where the virus came from, when and how it first infected humans and why it has spread so successfully. We will follow the trail from research laboratories to the remote rain forests of Africa and back again to unravel HIV's complicated life story. Over the years scientists on the case have made some amazing discoveries – there is not just one HIV but 12 – all separately derived from primate viruses. Aided by a mutation rate that is a million times faster than ours, all 12 can out-manoeuvre our immune system. But only one, HIV-1 group M, has spread globally. We will discuss the reasons for this and its implications for developing an effective vaccine or finding a cure.
The talk will be presented by Prof. Dorothy H. Crawford, Assistant Principal for Public Understanding of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Prof. Crawford is the author of ‘VIRUS HUNT, the search for the origin of HIV’.