Nearly 1500 new viruses discovered in China
12/03/2016 // JD Heyes // Views

We’ve reported regularly on the sad state of environmental affairs throughout China, including its massive industrial pollution, fake organic food industry, and its contamination of soil, water and air. Now, it seems, the country has become a purulent cesspool of potential infection, as well.

As reported by IFLScience, there are about 1 trillion various species on Earth, with most of them being microbial. So there’s no question that the world really belongs to them. What’s more, scientists have only barely scratched the surface in discovering all of the species that exist on the planet.

So with that in mind, it should not surprise anyone that 1,445 new viruses have just been discovered – in China alone.

A study published by a joint Australian-Chinese team in the journal Nature identified the new collection of viruses in 220 different species of invertebrates – organisms that do not have spinal columns. This includes insects, spiders, starfish, snails, crabs and octopus, among others.

Scientists have long known that viruses are pervasive around the world. They are in every known environment and all species of animals. In fact, an ancient virus forms a whole section of our own human genetic sequence, IFLScience reported.

The recently-published study shows that despite the body of knowledge we currently have, the viral world, or “virome,” is much more diverse and detailed than scientists previously believed or understood. Indeed, the new trove of identified viruses reveals that viral evolution has taken place with remarkable speed, as there has been a great deal of gene transfer between hosts and viruses.


The science news site noted that many of the newest discoveries have unique and amazing abilities to change their genetic structure, by exchanging bits of code for others so they can quickly adapt to new hosts and environments.

“RNA viruses are likely to exist in every species of cellular life,” the joint team, which was led by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, wrote. They added that their research “both reshapes our understanding of the patters and processes of their evolution and highlights the limitations of our knowledge on what are likely to be the most abundant organisms on earth.”

Researchers found the news species of viruses in aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates all living in China. Their genetic codes – or their RNA, which is chemically related to DNA – were decoded, but the team was not prepared to find so many new species that the viral family tree had to be essentially redrawn. In addition, it is possible that the new trove of viruses is the most prolific discovery to date, IFLScience noted.

That said, there is still quite a lot that scientists do not know about viruses. For one thing, there is no agreement over whether viruses are even alive, which remains a fundamental question in biological sciences.

Scientists do know, however, that viruses can do many things that fungi, bacteria, plants and animals do, but they cannot reproduce without a host. Also, viruses lack several other physical characteristics that normally indicate things that are actually “living.” Still, they are nonetheless classified by species as though they were alive, which can get awkward for researchers.

The more we understand viruses, the better able we’ll be to guard against infection, many of which are ancient and have been affecting (and killing) humans for thousands of years. In fact, 19 fragments of non-human DNA that have been discovered in human genome – a virus-manufactured phenomenon – has been copied and passed along from generation to generation.

Nevertheless, this most recent study has enlightened the scientific community greatly with a dramatic boost in the scientific world’s understanding of these microbial creatures that are everywhere.


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