When a virus infects our cells, it’s broken down into small fragments, and its proteins are displayed on our cells’ surface by molecules of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which collectively constitute our tissue type. The MHCs help our immune system to recognise when a cell is infected, so it can be targeted and destroyed. Because MHCs are the front-runners in battling viruses, the genes that encode them have to rapidly evolve. In humans, the MHC gene HLA-B*57:01 manages to keep HIV at very low levels, without the use of antiretroviral drugs. In chimps, researchers have found a gene equivalent of HLA-B*57:01, Patr-B*06:03. This chimp version is related to ours in structure, function and evolution and could help research into vaccine design for both species.
Written by Katie Panteli
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