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Science / Medicine

7th AIDS Virus Gene Acts Like Clutch in Car

May 25, 1986

Scientists have discovered a seventh gene in the AIDS virus, making it the most complex virus of its kind. Most other so-called "retroviruses" have only three or four genes.

The finding, announced in the current issue of Nature, may be a vital key toward understanding the AIDS virus, said Dr. William Haseltine of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "It gives us a deeper understanding of how the virus goes about its replication."

The gene, dubbed ART, apparently acts like the clutch of a car, keeping the engine of the virus's reproduction process disengaged until it is ready to replicate at a high rate, Haseltine said. "It's like a dragster that's all set and ready to go with the engine revving. This (gene) lets the driver pop the clutch in."

If drugs could stop the gene from producing a protein that allows the virus to begin reproducing, the disease could be prevented from destroying cells needed to protect the body from disease, he said. "But we're a long way from there."

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