"As Seen in GEN" Volume 5, Number 2, February 1985
U.S., French Teams Map AIDS-Linked Virus
By Joan Stephenson Graf
Two research groups, one in the United States and the other in France, revealed that they have independently succeeded in sequencing the virus believed to cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The two reports apparently confirm that the two viruses linked with AIDS, HTLV-III and LAV are, as scientists believed, the same virus.
The accomplishment represents a crucial bench mark in research on the deadly disease, helping researchers to understand how the virus functions and to develop diagnostic tests and a vaccine against the virus.
Moreover, the HTLV family of viruses may represent a new class of retroviruses that are important human pathogens. According to Dr. Mark Pearson of E.I. du Pont de Nemours, “These viruses appear to represent a new type of virus. Other members of this new virus family may be involved in other chronic diseases. We are just beginning to understand these agents and their role in human disease,” he said.
The analysis of the HTLV-III virus was initiated and coordinated by Drs. Robert Gallo and Flossie Wong-Staal of the National Cancer Institute; four other laboratories collaborated with the NCI group, including a second laboratory at NCI (under the direction of Dr. Takis Papas), a team at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (led by Dr. William Haseltine), a group at E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. in Wilmington, Del. (directed by Dr. Pearson), and a team at Centocor in Malvern, Pa. (led by Dr. Nancy Chang). The LAV virus was sequenced by a group of scientists at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, including Drs. Simon Wain-Hobson, Pierre Sonigo, Olivier Danos, Stewart Cole and Marc Alizon.
Knowing the exact sequence will help AIDS research in a number of ways. The protein or nucleic acid products encoded by the viral genome can be synthesized for research and for medical applications. “It will facilitate any recombinant DNA strategy, because it provides information about how and where to cut and splice,” Dr. Wong-Staal told GEN.
“It should bring more people into the field, because now we can make proteins and fragments of proteins,” said Dr. Gallo. Furthermore, the ability to work with selected portions of the pathogen rather than whole virus makes it possible for researchers to conduct research without fear of contracting the fatal ailment.