New York: A team of scientists at pharmaceutical major Abbott has identified a new subtype of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), called HIV-1 Group M, subtype L.
The discovery marks the first time a new subtype of HIV-1 has been identified since 2000.
The findings, published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS), show the role next-generation genome sequencing is playing in helping researchers stay one step ahead of mutating viruses and avoiding new pandemics.
Since the beginning of the global AIDS pandemic, 75 million people have been infected with HIV and 37.9 million people daily are living with the virus.
"In an increasingly connected world, we can no longer think of viruses being contained to one location," said Carole McArthur, Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and one of the study authors.
Group M viruses are responsible for the global pandemic, which can be traced back to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Sub-Saharan Africa.
To determine whether an unusual virus is, in fact, a new HIV subtype, three cases must be discovered independently.
The first two samples of this subtype were discovered in the DRC in the 1980s and the 1990s. The third, collected in 2001, was difficult to be sequenced at that time because of the amount of virus in the sample and the existing technology.
Today, next-generation sequencing technology allows researchers to build an entire genome at higher speeds and lower costs.
In order to utilise this technology, Abbott scientists had to develop and apply new techniques to help narrow in on the virus portion of the sample to fully sequence and complete the genome.
"Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack," said Mary Rodgers, a principal scientist and head of the Global Viral Surveillance Program, Diagnostics, Abbott, and one of the study authors.
"By advancing our techniques and using next-generation sequencing technology, we are pulling the needle out with a magnet. This scientific discovery can help us ensure that we are stopping new pandemics in their tracks."