More than 100,000 new viruses – including nine new coronaviruses – discovered by a supercomputer

A “ridiculously powerful” supercomputer has identified more than 100,000 new RNA viruses – including nine never-before-seen coronaviruses – by sifting through large amounts of biological samples.

As reported in the review Naturean international team of researchers used the supercomputer to sift through 20 million gigabytes of genetic sequence data from 5.7 million biological samples taken from everything from ice core samples to animal feces .

This search revealed 132,000 RNA viruses (of which only 15,000 were previously known to science) and nine new species of coronavirus.

By gathering all of this vital information, the team hopes their work can be used to eradicate future outbreaks – and perhaps even tackle the next big pandemic.

“We are entering a new era of understanding the genetic and spatial diversity of viruses in nature, and how a wide variety of animals interface with these viruses. The hope is that we won’t be caught off guard if something like SARS-CoV-2 – the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – reappears,” said Dr Artem Babaian, an independent researcher who worked on the project, in a press release.

“These viruses can be recognized more easily and their natural reservoirs can be found more quickly. The real goal is that these infections are recognized so early that they never become pandemics.”

“If a patient has a fever of unknown origin, once that blood is sequenced, you can now connect that unknown virus in humans to a much larger database of existing viruses. If a patient, for example, has a viral infection of unknown origin in St. Louis, you can now search the database in about two minutes and connect that virus to, say, a camel from sub-Saharan Africa. sampled in 2012,” added Dr. Babaian.

The most infamous coronavirus right now is, of course, SARS-CoV-2 – but there’s also SARS-CoV which emerged in 2002 and MERS-CoV, which causes Middle respiratory syndrome. East (MERS).

In addition to these particularly dangerous coronaviruses, there are four that usually cause no more than a cold in humans. These nine newly identified coronaviruses likely originated in pigs, birds, and bats, but it’s unclear whether they have the power to infect humans.

The supercomputer used in this research has a computing capacity of 22,500 typical processors. It would take a traditional supercomputer over a year (not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars) to perform this analysis, but this project completed the job in 11 days for $24,000.

The study has the potential to help improve pathogen surveillance for future pandemic anticipation and mitigation, but despite this bold promise, Dr Babaian says he started it as a “fun side project. “.

As the side projects went on, this one became quite prominent.

About Mariel Baker

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