The geographic origin of AIDS is now known

November 13, 2014, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)
The AIDS epidemic has spread with the development of transport, including rail, as here in the Republic of Congo in 1967. Credit: IRD / A. Dessier

A study published in Science magazine reveals for the first time where, when and how the world's AIDS pandemic originated. Thanks to a statistical analysis of all the genetic data available on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), an international research team has just confirmed that the scourge broke out in 1920 in Kinshasa, the capital of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By comparing this result with historical data, researchers explain how, from a single contamination by a chimpanzee, HIV spread to humans.

AIDS is one of the most devastating diseases in the history of humanity. Since its transmission to humans by great apes, the pathogen responsible, the (HIV) has infected 75 million people. However, thirty years after the discovery of its existence, little was known about the chain of events at the origin of the . An international team, led by the universities of Oxford and Louvain in collaboration with IRD researchers, has just published a new study in Science magazine that reveals where the pandemic broke out and how it spread.

Epicentre of the disease discovered in Kinshasa

Thanks to genome sequencing of the virus and the latest phylogeographic techniques, researchers have recreated the epidemic's genetic history. Scientists had previously identified chimpanzees from South Cameroon as the source of AIDS. There have been several human contaminations by these great apes throughout history, but only one of these cases led to the spread of HIV to humans.

Latest Medical Xpress updates on Facebook:

To determine where and when the epidemic originated, researchers compared the genetic diversity of the viruses collected in the countries of the Congo Basin, considered potential birthplaces. The result: the origin of the scourge was Kinshasa, the capital of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and dates back to 1920.

Emergence of a pandemic

Once the geographic origin of HIV was determined, scientists were able to link their on the virus' evolution with historical data, to determine the circumstances that enabled its outbreak in Kinshasa and its spread among human populations. Belgian colonial archives on the former Zaire reveal that at the beginning of the century a great deal of trade took place by river (ivory, rubber, etc.) between South-East Cameroon and Kinshasa. This could explain why the human epidemic broke out in the Congolese capital and not in Cameroon where the chimpanzees that contaminated humans are found.

Then between 1920 and 1950, urbanisation and the development of transport, particularly railways, made Kinshasa one of the most connected cities in Central Africa. At the end of the 1940s, over a million people passed through the city each year to reach the north or south of the country or travel to neighbouring countries. This unusual cocktail of factors, combined with the virus' genetic adaptability, led to its very rapid spread throughout the country (large like West Europe) as well as secondary outbreaks as far as South and East Africa. Later, after the 1960s, other social changes, such as the rise in prostitution and the use of non-sterile needles in public health initiatives, undoubtedly contributed to transforming small outbreaks of infection into a real pandemic.

Explore further: HIV pandemic's origins located: It may have emerged in Congo in 1920s

More information: Bedford, M. Ward, A. Tatem, J. D. Sousa, N. Arinaminpathy, J. Pépin, D. Posada, Martine Peeters, O. Pybus, P. Lemey. "The early spread and epidemic ignition of HIV-1 in human populations," Science, 2014, Vol. 346 no. 6205 pp. 56-61. DOI: 10.1126/science.1256739

Keele et al." Chimpanzee reservoirs of pandemic and nonpandemic HIV-1." Science, 2006, 313 (5786), p. 523-526. ISSN 0036-8075 fdi:010035725

Related Stories

HIV pandemic's origins located: It may have emerged in Congo in 1920s

October 2, 2014
The HIV pandemic with us today is almost certain to have begun its global spread from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to a new study.

DR Congo Ebola outbreak has killed 42 since August: govt

October 1, 2014
The Democratic Republic of Congo raised its death toll from the dealy Ebola virus to 42 on Wednesday as it struggled to contain the second outbreak of the deadly disease in Africa this year.

UN releases $1.5mn to help DR Congo fight Ebola

August 27, 2014
The United Nations on Wednesday allocated $1.5 million (1.1 million euros) to help the Democratic Republic of Congo fight Ebola, just days after the country confirmed its first cases this year.

Area of animal-to-human Ebola risk bigger than thought (Update)

September 8, 2014
More than 22 million people live in parts of Africa where conditions exist for the Ebola virus to jump from animals to humans, a bigger area than previously thought, researchers said Monday.

Recommended for you

War in Ukraine has escalated HIV spread in the country: study

January 15, 2018
Conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of HIV outbreaks throughout the country as displaced HIV-infected people move from war-affected regions to areas with higher risk of transmission, according to analysis by scientists.

Researchers offer new model for uncovering true HIV mortality rates in Zambia

January 12, 2018
A new study that seeks to better ascertain HIV mortality rates in Zambia could provide a model for improved national and regional surveillance approaches, and ultimately, more effective HIV treatment strategies.

New drug capsule may allow weekly HIV treatment

January 9, 2018
Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital have developed a capsule that can deliver a week's worth of HIV drugs in a single dose. This advance could make it much easier for patients to adhere to the strict schedule ...

New long-acting, less-toxic HIV drug suppresses virus in humanized mice

January 8, 2018
A team of Yale researchers tested a new chemical compound that suppresses HIV, protects immune cells, and remains effective for weeks with a single dose. In animal experiments, the compound proved to be a promising new candidate ...

Usage remains low for pill that can prevent HIV infection

January 8, 2018
From gritty neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to clinics in Kenya and Brazil, health workers are trying to popularize a pill that has proven highly effective in preventing HIV but which—in their view—remains woefully ...

Researchers find clues to AIDS resistance in sooty mangabey genome

January 3, 2018
Peaceful co-existence, rather than war: that's how sooty mangabeys, a monkey species found in West Africa, handle infection by SIV, a relative of HIV, and avoid developing AIDS-like disease.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.4 / 5 (11) Nov 13, 2014
I want to see an article that tells all of the truth
1.7 / 5 (11) Nov 13, 2014
I read an article in Readers Digest way back in the 70's or 80's that told the story of aids. It stated that the US Army had a facility in the Congo researching smallpox virus and that they used monkeys in their research. It told that the research facility was closed and the monkeys were left to run wild and that the smallpox mutated into aids. Only saw this article once and have never found it again.
5 / 5 (10) Nov 13, 2014
Elizabeth, this is nonsense. There is no genetic ( or structural ) relationship between HIV that causes AIDS and the pox virus. Two completely different viruses.
1.7 / 5 (11) Nov 13, 2014
Well that's the story that is being touted. I still suspect it was a CIA germ warfare created virus/experiment that was introduced in a group of folks that were considered expendable. When it spread to the gay community, there was no uproar there either, since these folks were also considered expendable. It wasn't until it posed a threat to heterosexual folks of European descent that the government and medical communities became concerned. I also doubt that it goes back to 1920. That bit of info was created just to throw folks off track. Nothing world agencies and governments do that is immoral surprises me in the least.
4.6 / 5 (9) Nov 13, 2014
soCheck.... do tell what is the "truth" you wish to see? It certainly isn't Elizbeth's nonsensical combination of small pox and aids...
2.3 / 5 (6) Nov 14, 2014
I heard it came from having intercourse with chimpanzees.
2 / 5 (6) Nov 14, 2014
Monkey gland rejuvenation procedures started at around the same time (1920s) and involved grafting a live piece of chimpanzee testicle to the testicle of a man. The graft remained viable for about a week during which time venous and arterial capillaries from the recipient innovated the graft.

The Chimpanzees were sourced in the Congo. Some local Congolese and chimp handlers had the operation as part of early experimentation. Paying recipients were usually older men. Voronoff wrote his first book on the potential of the procedure in 1920.


My Essay on the Origin of AIDS titled 'An Invitation to AIDS' was posted here in 2003
1.5 / 5 (8) Nov 14, 2014
Where do these morons come from would be a better research program. Is there some way to kill them all off seeing as education doesn't work on them.
Bob In Bridgeport
2.5 / 5 (8) Nov 14, 2014
So just as today's situation with Ebola, HIV/AIDS was a "gift from Africa" due to unsanitary eating and living practices both at home and even in clinics and hosptials. So now the whole world is at risk because THEY can't get their act together. The Colonials brought them doctors, nurses , hospitals and clinics and training so that they could continue with these health efforsts, but once on their own, they have totally fallen down on keeping these services up and functioning. Now, once more, the Colonials have to return to solve THEIR problems.
1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 14, 2014
My Essay on the Origin of AIDS titled 'An Invitation to AIDS' was posted here in 2003

In 2013 and 2014 Vosshall's group showed cell type differentiation is nutrient-dependent and pheromone-controlled by comparing effects of amino acid substitutions to mutations.

orco mutant mosquitoes lose strong preference for humans and are not repelled by volatile DEET http://www.ncbi.n...3696029/

Evolution of mosquito preference for humans linked to an odorant receptor

The link from amino acid substitutions in viruses to cell type differentiation in humans was clarified by across-species examples in:

Human pheromones and food odors: epigenetic influences on the socioaffective nature of evolved behaviors. http://www.ncbi.n...24693349

and in Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model.
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 14, 2014
Dobzhansky (1973) Nothing in Biology Makes Any Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

"...the so-called alpha chains of hemoglobin have identical sequences of amino acids in man and the chimpanzee, but they differ in a single amino acid (out of 141) in the gorilla."

Evolutionary theories about the origins of viruses have prevented many serious scientists from examining the physics, chemistry, and molecular biology of cause and effect that is clearly involved in their transmission within and across species.

If the theorists continue to tout their pseudoscientific nonsense about mutations and the evolution of biodiversity, they may lead to the death of us all.

Who will examine how nutrient-dependent amino acid substitutions differentiate cell types if they are taught to believe that cell type differentiation and increasing organismal complexity can be placed into the context of mutations and evolved biodiversity?
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 14, 2014
@bob in bridgeport,
You and I know what happened to the so-called syphilis experiments in Guatemala in 1948, and the Tsukegee syphilis experiment in 1930's-70's. The US researchers deliberately infected soldiers and prisoners without THE INFORMED CONSENT of the subjects. As far as AIDS, EBOLA, you know......
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 14, 2014
When Mutation Counters Infection: From Sickle Cell to Ebola

Although the role of amino acid substitutions in human cell type differentiation is clearer, Dr. Lewis also states: "Evolution. It happens."

She echoes science journalist Carl Zimmer: The Surprising Origins of Evolutionary Complexity http://www.scient...plexity/

"Others maintain that as random mutations arise, complexity emerges as a side effect, even without natural selection to help it along. Complexity, they say, is not purely the result of millions of years of fine-tuning through natural selection—the process that Richard Dawkins famously dubbed "the blind watchmaker." To some extent, it just happens."

Geneticists should accurately portray biologically-based cause and effect in the context of nutrient-dependent amino acid substitutions, not evolution.

1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 14, 2014
Previously stated by Dr. Lewis in: http://blogs.plos...aterial/

"Genetics is, however, only a statistical association between something we had to infer and something we could observe."

Watch closely, you may observe population geneticists as they ignore the molecular mechanisms that link the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA in the organized genomes of species from microbes to man via RNA-mediated events and amino acid substitutions that differentiate their cell types.

You may learn why Dobzhansky (1964) wrote: "...the only worthwhile biology is molecular biology. All else is "bird watching" or "butterfly collecting." Bird watching and butterfly collecting are occupations manifestly unworthy of serious scientists!" http://icb.oxford...citation

Sickle cell and Ebola must be addressed by serious scientists who understand cell type differentiation.
3.5 / 5 (8) Nov 15, 2014
@elisabeth: But why do you mention conspiracy theories? Especially in the light of research data that makes them not only the most apriori unlikely cause* but specifically known to be wrong.

(* Because conspiracy theories are made to be untestable, most often by blaming some nondescript military/government secrets as here. Untestable by 'secrecy' goalpost moving = admitting one is wrong but don't care.)

And since there are conspiracy crackpots on this thread (among the creationist/pheromone crackpots), I hasten to add that especially here politically driven 'research' is of no use, since these kind of data is essential not only to fight HIV but epidemics in general.

@Bob: The ushering in of democracy was stifled by colonialism, not helped by it, since colonies have a long history of problems before getting democratic, either they had to usher out the colonials (US, Australia, India) or have lingering difficulties with armed groups.
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 15, 2014
And since there are conspiracy crackpots on this thread (among the creationist/pheromone crackpots),

Robin Ince "Am I wrong to sometimes be scared of science idiots?"

Brian Cox "…my favoured response would be: 'you bunch of utter nob ends'.

Are evolutionary theorists 'nob ends'? http://perfumingt...ob-ends/
2 / 5 (4) Nov 15, 2014
@Torbjorn_Larsson_OM Because she lives in Temperance, MI and is from Toledo and is addicted to refined white sugar. https://www.faceb...h.snuggs

It's time for the DSM to define Conspiracy Syndrome. It's a well defined combination of fuzzy comparisons, inability to appreciate scale, cherry picking data, monolithic solutions and alpha primate worship. The cognitive impairment can be operationally defined and measured.

What's incredible is that they're still in the public debate. A raving schizophrenic would be shown the door. I don't see why the same isn't done with these pathological cases. They literally don't believe anything is ever random. I did a sequence of numbers once for a really serious case where the all added to the same number and created a pyramid in order based on a random algorithm and explained to her exactly what I was doing. "No. You've uncovered something you don't understand". We're talking about people that can't grasp "random"!
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 15, 2014
Torbjorn - Because the writer is a troll. They drop a blatantly stupid/offensive statement to cause outrage and then never comment on the article again. I suspect elizabethsnuggs is merely one of many accounts held by a serial troll.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2014
Somebody raped an ape.....or did somebody GET raped by an ape? Get over it. Kind of like the sign on the back of a redneck's truck....Beer, helpin' rednecks sire morons for millennia!
1 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2014
For those with long memories, this 'AIDS' syndrome first publicly showed up in children in some clinic in the Bay Area, maybe San Francisco in the early seventies of the last century. Sheesh it is strange to refer to the century of my birth as the 'last century', but I can still run and do push ups like when I was 26. O well, I give thanks to God that he made me the 'Energizer Bunny'. Later on....much later.... some folks who should have done their research claimed that it first appeared after 1982.... Selective memory and forgetfulness are not critters of the modern age, older generations screwed up too.
Nov 19, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
3 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2014
Let the article be more truthful. The virus came from chimpanzees through sexual acts, just like it spreads in humans. Don't know why it ignores that fact. While AIDS may be a terrible disease, it is also likely the most preventable of all diseases. Just keep yourself sexually pure, and don't have any sexual relations until marriage to one person your whole life. Truly the happiest way to live. And the safest.

Sex with a chimp? Good way to get your face torn off.

Pure, as in the Puritans, who held that sex was to be enjoyed (within marriage) and yet at a minimum 10% of brides were pregnant at the time of their marriage. Puritans allowed divorce and one cause was lack of sexual satisfaction from a spouse. Self induced abortion was practiced by Puritan women using herbs they had learned from Native American women.

They lived in the real world. You do not.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2015
"Later, after the 1960s, other social changes, such as the rise in prostitution and the use of non-sterile needles in public health initiatives, undoubtedly contributed to transforming small outbreaks of infection into a real pandemic." What a bunch of PC detritus! Everyone knows that the major factor, by far, in the modern spread of HIV in the west was homosexual behavior. Period.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.