According to new reports, a team of Israeli scientists has found no less than 100,000 types of never-before-known viruses.
This revolutionary study has been published in the prestigious Cell journal and contains environmental data coming from soil samples but also lakes, oceans and other ecosystems from all over the world.
It has led to an incredible ninefold increase in the total number of known RNA viruses, as per Tel Aviv University.
RNA viruses, as opposed to DNA ones, infect cells by injecting RNA into the host cells’ cytoplasm, leading to a higher mutation rate.
Some of the best known human illnesses that resulted from RNA viruses are the common cold, influenza, MERS, SARS, hepatitis C and E, West Nile fever, measles, Ebola and of course, COVID-19!
As the scientists have also managed to identify the organisms the viruses are more likely to attack, they are hopeful their findings can help develop new types of drugs and also protect against fungi and parasites potentially harmful to agriculture.
The study includes data collected by more than 100 scientists from all over the world, including ones from the US National Institutes of Health, Stanford, France’s Institut Pasteur, the US Department of Energy and many more such reputable institutions.
Uri Neri, the paper’s lead author, mentions that the discovery was made possible due to new computational technologies.
This is because they allowed the scientists to gather genetic information effectively, collecting it from thousands of sampling points.
This impressive system has actually been created for the purpose of the study and allowed the experts to reconstruct the way in which the many viruses have undergone a variety of acclimation processes all through their evolution.
Tel Aviv University Professor Uri Gophna, who also oversaw this research, stated that “One of the main questions in microbiology is why and how viruses transfer genes between them. The system that we developed makes it possible to perform in depth evolutionary analyses and understand how the RNA viruses have developed throughout evolutionary history.”
Gophna went on to note that “Compared to DNA viruses, the diversity and the roles of RNA viruses in microbial ecosystems aren’t well understood. In our study, we learned that RNA viruses aren’t unusual in the evolutionary landscape and that, in fact, in some aspects they’re not that different from DNA viruses. This opens a door for future research, and for a much better understanding of how viruses can get harnessed for use in medicine and in agriculture.”