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This is, in turn, surrounded by the viral envelope, that is composed of the lipid bilayer taken from the membrane of a human host cell when the newly formed virus particle buds from the cell.The viral envelope contains proteins from the host cell and relatively few copies of the HIV Envelope protein, The Envelope protein, encoded by the HIV env gene, allows the virus to attach to target cells and fuse the viral envelope with the target cell's membrane releasing the viral contents into the cell and initiating the infectious cycle.

HIV-1 is more virulent and more infective than HIV-2, and is the cause of the majority of HIV infections globally.

The RNA genome consists of at least seven structural landmarks (LTR, TAR, RRE, PE, SLIP, CRS, and INS), and nine genes (gag, pol, and env, tat, rev, nef, vif, vpr, vpu, and sometimes a tenth tev, which is a fusion of tat, env and rev), encoding 19 proteins.

Three of these genes, gag, pol, and env, contain information needed to make the structural proteins for new virus particles.

These advances in structural biology were made possible due to the development of stable recombinant forms of the viral spike by the introduction of an intersubunit disulphide bond and an isoleucine to proline mutation in gp41.

Recombinant trimeric viral spikes are promising vaccine candidates as they display less non-neutralising epitopes than recombinant monomeric gp120, which act to suppress the immune response to target epitopes.

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