Israeli researchers identify 100,000 new kinds of viruses

Team of Tel Aviv University researchers discover nine times as many viruses as were previously identified, even specifying which organisms they are likely to attack. 

By World Israel News Staff

Researchers from Tel Aviv University have discovered some 100,000 hitherto unknown types of viruses, increasing the number of identified RNA virus types ninefold.

These viruses were identified as part of a groundbreaking study, which drew from global environmental data from soil samples, oceans, lakes, and a plethora of other ecosystems.

The discovery and cataloguing of the new virus types could aid in the development of targeted anti-microbials and could also be applied to protect agricultural products from fungi and parasites.

Most viruses are benign, the team noted, with many types of viruses infecting bacterial cells.

Doctoral student Uri Neri led the study, under the guidance of Prof. Uri Gophna of the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research in the Wise Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University.

France’s Pasteur Institute and the U.S.’ National Institutes of Health and Joint Genome Institute collaborated with the Tel Aviv University team for the project.

The study itself has been published in the journal Cell.

The research team used new computational technologies to mine genetic data collected from thousands samples taken across the globe.

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A sophisticated computational tool was used to distinguished between the genetic material of RNA viruses and that of the hosts, enabling it to comb the databases for new viruses.

In their analysis, the Tel Aviv University team was able to identify viruses suspected of infecting various pathogenic microorganisms, a development would could open up the possibility of using viruses to control microbes.

“The system we developed makes it possible to perform in-depth evolutionary analyses and to understand how the various RNA viruses have developed throughout evolutionary history,” Prof. Gophna explained.

“One of the key questions in microbiology is how and why viruses transfer genes between them. We identified a number of cases in which such gene exchanges enabled viruses to infect new organisms.”

“Furthermore, compared to DNA viruses, the diversity and roles of RNA viruses in microbial ecosystems are not well understood. In our study, we found that RNA viruses are not unusual in the evolutionary landscape and, in fact, that in some aspects they are not that different from DNA viruses…

“This opens the door for future research, and for a better understanding of how viruses can be harnessed for use in medicine and agriculture.”