What virologists’ dreams are made of: A total viral catalog

Believe it or not, we have a tremendous deal to learn about viruses. A lot of huge, fundamental questions about viruses remain unanswered –  are they alive or dead? Where did they originate? How many are there? This last question is in some ways the most feasible to answer, and scientists have begun to do so by examining Indian Flying Fox bats. In a new study, scientists at Columbia university took over a thousand samples from the bat species and scoured them for viruses. They turned up 55 viruses, of which a staggering 50 were hitherto undiscovered. Ten of them are in the same family as Nipah. The scientists now hope to take the viruses found from the Indian Flying Foxes and begin a catalog of viruses which infect the remaining 5,484 known species of mammals. Such a resource, while expensive to produce, would be a huge aid in preparing us for future zoonotic outbreaks.

New York Times – “We might be able to take away this element of surprise if we had a catalog of all the viruses lurking in mammals. As soon as a mysterious epidemic broke out, scientists could turn to the catalog to figure out where the virus came from, potentially gaining some crucial clues to the virus’s biology. But few scientists have ventured to build such a catalog, perhaps because there seemed to be such a vast number of viruses to contend with.’No one’s really been addressing this question, even though it seems like such a fundamental one,’ said Simon J. Anthony, an associate research scientist at Columbia University and a researcher at EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based scientific research organization.”

Read the full article here.

(image: Fritz Geller-Grimm)

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