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The world’s oceans remain unexplored and marine scientists often find new species lurking in its depths.
Recently, a research team came across thousands of new virus species that did not belong to any of the currently documented phyla, or divisions, USA Today reported.
In their study, the team analyzed tens of thousands of water samples taken from oceans all over the globe. The samples included plankton, which is known to carry RNA viruses – a type of virus that includes Covid-19, West Nile virus and the flu.
The scientists then used “machine learning” to compare the new viral genes to an ancient one known as RdRp, which has evolved over billions of years. They explained that the RdRp acts as a “barcode gene” so researchers can assess virus diversity.
Their findings revealed more than 5,500 new species of marine viruses, noting that none of them fit in any of the five already known phyla. Instead, they proposed five more phyla for the new pathogens.
Co-author Ahmed Zayed noted it’s unclear how these pathogens impact marine life.
Even so, he added that the viruses’ connection to RdRp could help scientists understand how viruses evolved and how they played a role in life on Earth.
“We’re not just tracing the origins of viruses but also tracing the origins of life,” he said.