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A new look at the origins of gibbon ape leukemia virus

J. McKee1 N. Clark2 F. Shapter2 G. Simmons2

1. D.O. Johnsen, W.L. Wooding, P. Tanticharoenyos, C.H. Bourgeois, Malignant lymphoma in the gibbon. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 159, 563–566 (1971)
2. C.H. Lingeman, R.E. Reed, in Spontaneous hematopoietic neoplasms of non human primates. Review, case report and comparative studies, ed. by C.H. Lingeman and F.M. Garner, Symposium on comparative morphology of hematopoietic neoplasms (National Cancer Institute publishers, Washington D.C, 1969), pp. 157–167

Is the origin of gibbon ape leukemia virus (GALV) human after all? When GALV was discovered and found to cause neoplastic disease in gibbons, it stimulated a great deal of research including investigations into the origins of this virus. A number of publications have suggested that the GALV progenitor was a retrovirus present in one of several species of South East Asian rodents that had close contact with captive gibbons. However, there are no published retroviral sequences from any South East Asian species to support this view. Here we present an alternative hypothesis that the origin of GALV is a virus closely related to Melomys burtoni retrovirus, and that this virus infected human patients in Papua New Guinea from whom biological material was obtained or in some way contaminated these samples. This material we propose contained infectious MbRV-related virus that was then unwittingly introduced into gibbons which subsequently developed GALV infections.

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