Scientists from Tel Aviv University and elsewhere have detected 111,000 new RNA virus genomes in global environmental data from diverse habitats and hosts. The discovery may help in the development of anti-microbial drugs and in protecting against agriculturally harmful fungi and parasites.
Neri et al. expanded RNA virus diversity from 13,282 to 124,873 distinct clusters at a granularity level between species and genus. Image credit: Neri et al., doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2022.08.023.
Viruses are intracellular parasites of living organisms and are regarded as the most numerous biological entities on Earth.
Historically, only viruses causing disease in humans, livestock, and crops along with model bacteria-infecting viruses (phages) have been studied in detail.
Recently, a previously unsuspected diversity of DNA viruses has been identified, thanks to advances in genome sequencing and metagenomics.
Compared with DNA viruses, the diversity and role of RNA viruses in microbial ecosystems is poorly understood.
“We used new computational technologies to mine genetic information collected from thousands of different sampling points around the world (oceans, soil, sewage, geysers, etc.),” said lead author Dr. Uri Neri, a researcher at Tel Aviv University.
“We developed a sophisticated computational tool that distinguishes between the genetic material of RNA viruses and that of the hosts and used it to analyze the big data.”
The discovery allowed the researchers to reconstruct how the viruses underwent diverse acclimation processes throughout their evolutionary development in order to adapt to different hosts.
In analyzing their findings, they were able to identify viruses suspected of infecting various pathogenic microorganisms, thus opening up the possibility of using viruses to control them.
“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,” said Tel Aviv University’s Professor Uri Gophna, senior author on the study.
“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.”
The findings were published in the journal Cell.
Uri Neri et al. 2022. Expansion of the global RNA virome reveals diverse clades of bacteriophages. Cell 185 (21): 4023-4037; doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2022.08.023
Source : Breaking Science News