At least 320,000 undiscovered viruses can be found in mammals, according to a study. Unless scientists discover more about these viruses now, humanity will be threatened with pandemics.
Around 70 per cent of viruses that infect humans originate in
wildlife – and HIV, along with the infamous Ebola virus, are no
To investigate the new viruses, scientists examined a species of
bat called the flying fox, which carries the Nipah virus – deadly
if it spreads to humans.
Specialists studied 1,897 samples collected from bats and found
out how many new pathogens the animals created. The number turned
out to be 60, and extrapolated to all mammals, the figure topped
320,000 previously undetected viruses.
"What we're really talking about is defining the full range of
diversity of viruses within mammals, and our intent is that as we
get more information we will be able to understand the principles
that underlie determinants of risks," Professor Ian Lipkin,
director of the Center stressed.
The cost of the research may top $6 billion, and the program may
take 10 years, scientists from the Center for Infection and
Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
in the US pointed out.
However, the specialists also indicated that the sum was just a
small part of the potential amount governments would have to
spend if pandemics start.
"Despite what looks like an extraordinary expense to pursue
this kind of work, it really pales in comparison with what one
might learn that could lead to very rapid recognition and
intervention that could come to the fore with a pandemic risk.
The idea is to develop an early warning system," Professor
As for the method of the research, he indicated that scientists
could not survey every animal on the planet, but they will
“try and map as best as we can using a concept referred to as
hotspots” and “look at areas where we know, based on previous
experience, there is a high likelihood that new infectious agents
will emerge or will pose considerable threat to human
And the new research published in the journal mBio is in fact
groundbreaking, the study’s corresponding author Peter Daszak,
president of EcoHealth Alliance, told the Health24 website.
"For decades, we've faced the threat of future pandemics
without knowing how many viruses are lurking in the environment,
in wildlife, waiting to emerge. Finally we have a breakthrough -
there aren't millions of unknown virus, just a few hundred
thousand, and given the technology we have it's possible that in
my lifetime, we'll know the identity of every unknown virus on
the planet," Daszak underlined.
It’s not the first attempt scientists have made to avert the
threats of undetected viruses to humanity. 240 viruses have been
discovered so far in the framework of a similar project called