Tel Aviv University Discovers 100,000 New RNA Viruses

Tel Aviv University scientists discovered 100,000 New Virus Strains in 2022. The findings are equivalent to nine times the number of RNA viruses known to science.

Tel Aviv University Discovers 100,000 New RNA Viruses
Ilustration of Viruses

An innovative Tel Aviv University study has found about 100,000 new strains of the virus previously unknown. This increase is equivalent to a nine-fold increase in RNA viruses known to science today.

The virus is found in global environmental data ranging from soil samples to oceans, lakes, and other ecosystems. The discovery could help develop anti-microbial drugs and protect against fungi and parasites harmful to agriculture.

Doctoral student Uri Neri leads the study under Prof. Uri Gophna of the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at the Wise Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University. The study was conducted in collaboration with US-based research bodies NIH and JGI. The study was published in the prestigious journal Cell on December 26, 2022, and consists of data collected by over a hundred scientists worldwide.

Viruses are genetic parasites, meaning they must infect living cells to replicate their genetic information, produce new viruses, and complete their infection cycles. Some viruses are causative agents of diseases that can harm humans (such as coronaviruses). However, most viruses do not harm us and infect bacterial cells, and even some of them live in our bodies without us knowing it.

The researchers developed an advanced computational tool that distinguishes between the genetic material of RNA viruses and hosts and uses them to analyze extensive data on virus mutation cycles. The discovery allowed the researchers to reconstruct how viruses underwent diverse acclimatization processes throughout their evolutionary development to adapt to different hosts.

In analyzing their findings, the researchers identified a virus suspected of infecting various pathogenic microorganisms, thus opening up the possibility of using existing viruses to control them simultaneously.

One of the critical questions in microbiology is how and why viruses transfer genes between them. In the study's publication, researchers found that RNA viruses are not used to living in different habitat landscapes and, in some aspects, are not much different from DNA viruses. This opens the door to future research and a better understanding of how the virus can be harnessed in medicine and agriculture.

Overall, the results show a significant expansion of Orthornavira's diversity, especially RNA viruses associated with bacteria. Furthermore, RNA viruses are predicted to have many protein functions.