The Sooty Mangabey: A Promising Primate Model for AIDS Research

The struggle against Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has been a long and painful journey. Individuals with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can live normal lives without any outward signs of illness so long as the virus lays dormant. However, when the virus is active, the chronic condition progresses to AIDS, a failure of the immune system that can be life-threatening.

Dr. Steven Bosinger, a researcher at Yerkes Division of Microbiology, and his mentor Guido Silvestri, Chief of the Division of Microbiology and Immunology at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, want to reduce the number of HIV patients who become victims of AIDS.

Since 2004, Bosigner and Silvestri have been studying samples from Sooty Mangabey, a West African primate species that has natural strains of the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), a virus similar to HIV. The researchers mapped the Sooty Mangabey genome, which they compared to the genomes of other species susceptible to HIV. They found that the Sooty Mangabeys, natural hosts of the SIV, cannot contract AIDS and have evolved to “peacefully coexist with the virus.”

This model is “biological proof that species can coexist with a disease without getting an infection.” This research inspires confidence that with time, species like our own could survive the fatality of HIV.



Steven Bosinger, Ph.D., is a researcher within the Yerkes National Primate Research Center’s Division of Microbiology & Immunology and an Assistant Professor in the Emory School of Medicine Department of Pathology & Lab Medicine. He is also Director of the Yerkes Research Center’s Nonhuman Primate Genomics Core, which since 2012 has been a resource to researchers who are interested in applying genomic technology to the study of primates and the immune system.

Works Cited

  1. Bosinger, Steven E. “Nonpathogenic SIV Infection of Sooty Mangabeys.” Encyclopedia of AIDS, by Bosinger, edited by Thomas J. Hope et al., 2014.
  2. Bosinger, Steven E., and David Palesch. “Sooty mangabey genome sequence provides insight into AIDS resistance in a natural SIV host.” Nature, vol. 553, no. 7686, 4 Jan. 2018, pp. 77-81. Nature,
  3. Bosinger, Steven E. Interview. By Joshua Gulisano.
  4. Dunham, Richard et al. “The AIDS Resistance of Naturally SIV-Infected Sooty Mangabeys Is Independent of Cellular Immunity to the Virus.” Blood 108.1 (2006): 209–217. PMC. Web.
  5. Wilson, Don E., and DeeAnn M. Reeder. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 3rd ed., Baltimore, Johns Hopkins UP, 2006.

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