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The discovery may assist in the conservation of critically endangered mountain gorillas, according to scientists at the University of California, Davis.
The finding might also benefit people with the Epstein-Barr virus, they said.
Epstein-Barr -- also called human herpesvirus 4 -- infects more than 90 percent of people worldwide, but typically causes no symptoms or serious health consequences. However, it can lead to certain types of cancer in people with HIV/AIDS and weakened immune systems. It's also one of the major causes of mononucleosis, often called the "kissing disease."
The researchers analyzed saliva found on plants chewed by mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda. They found the gorillas have their own version of this herpes virus. It poses little risk to otherwise healthy gorillas and is typically dormant in their bodies.
However, the virus can be a threat to gorilla infants, according to researchers, just as the Epstein-Barr virus can be to human infants and children with HIV/AIDS.
"Viruses can behave similarly in different species," said lead author Tierra Smiley Evans, a postdoctoral researcher in veterinary medicine.
"Learning about how gorillas react to this virus in their natural setting may help us have a better understanding of how Epstein-Barr virus affects human infants," Smiley Evans said in a university news release.
Mountain gorillas are one of humans' closest genetic relatives, the researchers noted.
The study was published July 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.
-- Robert Preidt
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