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New research into the HIV-1 virus has shed light on an important factor in the evolution of viruses, which is likely also to affect SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes COVID-19). This new insight could have important implications for vaccine development.

Vaccine needle​ syringe

Differences in the cellular immune system in different human populations are now known to influence a virus’s evolution. A virus will adapt and may ultimately form subtypes to escape common antiviral immune responses.

For the first time, in a paper published in Virus Evolution, Professor Astrid Iversen of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford and collaborators have shown a strong link between ethnic diversity in African countries and the diversity of HIV-1 p24Gag and HIV-1 subtypes.

By analysing the HIV-B epidemic in the USA, they also reveal that viral evolution is ongoing and is affected by the continuously increasing proportion of African Americans in the HIV-infected population over time. This result underscores how inequalities in health care can affect pathogen evolution if a specific ethnic group is disproportionately disadvantaged.

The full story is available on the University of Oxford website