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The Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV, is a retrovirus that contains RNA as the genetic material. Scientists believe that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called Simian Immunodeficiency Virus or SIV) was the original source of HIV infection in humans.

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It is theorized that SIV was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when humans in Africa hunted chimpanzees for meat and exposed themselves to the infected blood. The mutation rate in retroviruses, including SIV and HIV, is much higher than it is among DNA viruses.

The MOST likely explanation for this is that


RNA is more chemically stable than DNA.


retroviruses like HIV lack replication error-checking mechanisms when copying DNA from RNA, and thus have higher rates of mutation.


retroviral envelopes are able to fuse with host cell membranes, causing spontaneous changes in the viral genome.


the action of host cell restriction enzymes can trigger base changes in viral RNA.

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