Tel Aviv University Scientists Uncover 100,000 Previously Unknown Viruses

A team of scientists from Israel are claiming that they have discovered about 100,000 new viruses that had been unknown to science previously.

Tel Aviv University scientists and from elsewhere published the groundbreaking research back in September in Cell, a prominent academic journal.

They made this discovery by examining environmental data from lakes, oceans, soil samples and a number of other ecosystems from all over the world.

The study

According to Tel Aviv University, the number of RNA viruses that are known to science increased nine-fold due to the study.

RNA viruses are difference from DNA viruses because the cells are infected when the RNA enters the cytoplasm and they also have a higher mutation rate.

RNA viruses are responsible for some of very prominent human diseases, which include the common cold, hepatitis C, West Nile Fever, COVID-19, measles, Ebola, hepatitis E, MERS, SARS and influenza.

The scientists were also able to identify the organisms that the viruses were most likely to attack and they hoped that their discovery could be used for developing new types of antimicrobial drugs for protecting against parasites and agriculturally harmful fungi.

The data used in the study was collected by more than hundred scientists all over the globe. It also included research from the US National Institutes of Health, Stanford, Institut Pasteur in France and the US Department of Energy.

The technologies

A doctoral student at Tel Aviv University, Uri Neri was the lead author, who said that new computational technologies had made it possible for them to make the discoveries.

Neri said that the technologies had helped the researchers in gathering genetic information, which had been obtained from thousands of various sampling points.

The system had been primarily developed for carrying out the study and was also handy for the researchers for reconstructing how diverse acclimation processes had taken place in the viruses during their evolutionary development.

Prof. Uri Gophna from Tel Aviv University oversaw the study and said that one of the most important questions asked in microbiology is why and how genes are transferred between viruses.

Additional details

He stated that they had been able to conduct in-depth evolutionary analyses thanks to the system they had developed.

Therefore, this had helped them in understanding how the development of the RNA viruses have taken place during their evolution.

Gophna said that as opposed to DNA viruses, the roles and diversity in the microbial ecosystem of RNA viruses is not properly understood.

The professor said that they had learnt through their study that when it comes to the evolutionary landscape, RNA viruses are not really unusual because it had become apparent that they were not very different from DNA viruses in some aspects.

He went on to say that this also opened up opportunities for more research in the future and it could result in a better understanding of how it is possible to harness viruses for use in agriculture and medicine.

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