A near full-length HIV-1 genome from 1966 recovered from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue

Sophie Gryseels, Thomas D. Watts, Jean Marie Kabongo Mpolesha, Brendan B. Larsen, Philippe Lemey, Jean Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum, Dirk E. Teuwen, Michael Worobey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


With very little direct biological data of HIV-1 from before the 1980s, far-reaching evolutionary and epidemiological inferences regarding the long prediscovery phase of this pandemic are based on extrapolations by phylodynamic models of HIV-1 genomic sequences gathered mostly over recent decades. Here, using a very sensitive multiplex RT-PCR assay, we screened 1,645 formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue specimens collected for pathology diagnostics in Central Africa between 1958 and 1966. We report the near-complete viral genome in one HIV-1 positive specimen from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), from 1966 ("DRC66")-a nonrecombinant sister lineage to subtype C that constitutes the oldest HIV-1 near full-length genome recovered to date. Root-to-tip plots showed the DRC66 sequence is not an outlier as would be expected if dating estimates from more recent genomes were systematically biased; and inclusion of the DRC66 sequence in tip-dated BEAST analyses did not significantly alter root and internal node age estimates based on post-1978 HIV-1 sequences. There was larger variation in divergence time estimates among datasets that were subsamples of the available HIV-1 genomes from 1978 to 2014, showing the inherent phylogenetic stochasticity across subsets of the real HIV-1 diversity. Our phylogenetic analyses date the origin of the pandemic lineage of HIV-1 to a time period around the turn of the 20th century (1881 to 1918). In conclusion, this unique archival HIV-1 sequence provides direct genomic insight into HIV-1 in 1960s DRC, and, as an ancient-DNA calibrator, it validates our understanding of HIV-1 evolutionary history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - Jun 2 2020


  • Evolution
  • HIV-1
  • Phylogeny
  • Virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'A near full-length HIV-1 genome from 1966 recovered from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this