A terrifying map reveals 5,000 new viruses lurking beneath the ocean

Researchers have analyzed seawater from around the world and found thousands of previously undiscovered viruses.

The study focused on RNA viruses like COVID, which can replicate much faster than DNA viruses.

These viruses also lack a “genetic barcode” because they do not harbor their evolutionary information in DNA.

“Without this barcode, trying to distinguish different virus species in the wild can be challenging,” wrote the study.

The team focused on plankton, which can move in any direction in the water, independent of currents.

Because of their mobility, plankton are vital to underwater ecosystems and food chains – they are also important carriers of RNA viruses.

To identify viruses, the researchers tagged a specific enzyme known to replicate viruses.

The RNA viruses show very small differences in the genetic coding of this enzyme – 44,000 different genes have been found that can contribute to the replication process.

They then tried to isolate the genes from samples and determine their connection.

New virus organizing groups have been discovered.
New virus organizing groups have been discovered.
Zayed et al., Science, 2022

“The more similar two genes were, the more likely it was that viruses were closely related to those genes,” giving the researchers insight into the early history of viruses on Earth.

The study also discovered five new phyla for RNA viruses.

Phylum is the fourth largest organizational category for organisms.

Organisms within the same phylum are related in some biological way – for example, all vertebrates belong to the phylum chordates.

Map showing the distribution of RNA viruses in the ocean.
Map showing the distribution of RNA viruses in the ocean.
Zayed et al., Science, 2022

One of the new phyla, Taraviricotagives scientists hope to understand how and why viruses replicate.

“We believe that Taraviricota may be the missing link in the evolution of RNA viruses that researchers have long sought, connecting two distinct known branches of RNA viruses that differ in their replication,” they wrote.

Although the research itself has been successful, much remains to be discovered.

The results of the study uncovered thousands of new RNA viruses and their genetic details, but it’s still unclear who or what is at risk of infection.

This story originally appeared on the sun and is reproduced here with permission. A terrifying map reveals 5,000 new viruses lurking beneath the ocean


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