Modern test finds new HIV strain in old virus sample

American drug company Abbott Laboratories has announced the discovery of a new HIV strain. Called HIV-1 Group M, subtype L, this strain is the first subtype of the Group M virus discovered since the year 2000 when guidelines were established for identifying new strains. According to Abbott, the third and last known sample of the 'L' subtype was collected in 2001.

HIV-1 Group M is the virus responsible for the global pandemic ultimately traced back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Per the guidelines established in 2000, three independently discovered cases are necessary in order to establish a new HIV subtype. The newly announced 'L' subtype discovery isn't exactly new — rather, confirmation of its status as a new subtype is.

Three samples of the strain were collected, one in the 1980s, another in the 1990s, and the third in 2001. The last of the three proved tricky to sequence due to a combination of there being a low amount of the virus in the sample and the limitations of the technology available at that time.

Present-day technology is cheaper and faster than what was available in 2001. Abbott says that it scientists created new techniques that worked alongside this modern tech to sequence the virus in the sample, resulting in a complete genome. The third sample joined the previous two in confirming the existence of the 'L' subtype of HIV-1 M.

In a statement on the discovery, one of the study's authors, Mary Rodgers, PhD, explained:

Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack. By advancing our techniques and using next generation sequencing technology, we are pulling the needle out with a magnet. This scientific discovery can help us ensure we are stopping new pandemics in their tracks.