The findings that wild chimpanzees naturally infected with Simian Immunodeficiency Viruses (SIV) are published in the July 23 edition of the journal Nature.
An international consortium has done the findings, that long thought to be harmless to the apes, can contract an AIDS-like syndrome and die as a result.
Scientists have known that the AIDS virus, HIV-1, first entered the human population after transmission from chimpanzees. The precursor virus, SIV, has many different forms, most of which infect various African monkey species. While there are data for only a few of these species, all of the evidence so far has indicated that monkey SIVs are not pathogenic in their natural hosts.
"We all assumed that the same was true of SIV infection in chimpanzees, but that turns out not to be the case," said Dr. Beatrice Hahn, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who led the investigation. "But of course chimps are not monkeys. Chimpanzees and humans are very similar genetically, so perhaps we should not be surprised that these closely related viruses cause disease in both hosts."
The study focused on chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. For nearly 50 years, primatologist Jane Goodall and her colleagues have studied the chimpanzee communities at Gombe, monitoring their biology and behavior.
Lincoln Park Zoo and University of Illinois researchers, in cooperation with the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), established a chimpanzee health-monitoring program at Gombe. This program provided the necessary field laboratories and veterinary expertise to enable post-mortem analyzes of chimpanzees that died during the course of the study.