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An unusual hero has appeared in the battle against HIV. Cows have shown an incredible ability to fight HIV and it’s baffling scientists.

The new study published in Nature, conducted by the US National Institutes of Health discovered that when cattle are injected with HIV specific antigens, an immune response to produce broadly neutralising antibodies was seen as early as 42 days after exposure.

Everyone infected with HIV will produce antibodies to its antigens, although these are too specific for their particular strain of HIV for any kind of vaccine to arise from these antibodies. Around 20% of humans infected with HIV will produce broadly neutralising antibodies, which can inhibit all strains of HIV, taking a few years after the initial infection. By this time, the HIV will have mutated to avoid destruction by the immune system.

However, the bovine subjects used in this study have exerted an ability to produce broadly neutralising antibodies much earlier after infection. 42 days into the experiment the cattle’s antibodies could neutralize 20 percent of the HIV strains tested. A further 339 days and 96% of the strains tested were neutralized.

“The response blew our minds,” Dr Devin SokIt told BBC News. “It was just insane how good it looked, in humans, it takes three-to-five years to develop the antibodies we’re talking about. “This is really important because we hadn’t been able to do it period. Who would have thought cow biology was making a significant contribution to HIV?”

A theory behind their ability to produce powerful antibodies comes from their gut. A cow’s diet consists of mostly grass which is tough to break down, so plenty of bacteria is needed in the gut for this process. The higher bacteria count, the higher the risk of infection, therefore power antibodies are needed for the species survival.

“HIV is a human virus but researchers can certainly learn from immune responses across the animal kingdom,” said Devin Sok, a study leader and director of antibody discovery and development at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

We can learn from cows and how they naturally produce antibodies to fight off all types of foreign invaders.

Sources: The independent, IFL Science, Nature

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