On the hunt for the next virus

In search of the next virus The Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet, but some researchers are already worry about mousepox . Colin Carl...

The Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet, but some researchers are already worry about mousepox.

Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University, has spent the past few years training computers to predict which dangerous viruses could jump from animals to humans, following in the footsteps of the coronavirus (from bats), HIV (chimpanzees ) and hundreds of other pathogens.

His team used machine learning to develop a short list of potentially dangerous viruses that could potentially leap forward. Mousepox – a virus that infects mice and resembles smallpox but had not been considered a significant danger to humans – repeatedly came up “super high”, he told my colleague Carl Zimmer.

Digging through the scientific literature, the researchers came across documentation of a mysterious epidemic in 1987 in rural China. The school children contracted an infection which caused them sore throats and inflammation of the hands and feet. When samples from that outbreak were analyzed decades later, scientists found mousepox DNA.

Mousepox is just one of many viruses with the potential to cause a new pandemic that computers could detect in advance. I asked Carl to explain the complex process used by experts to search for potentially dangerous viruses. He said the work started on the ground: “It’s not easy. You have to go catch bats or rodents or tranquilize a lion with darts to take a sample. Not only that, but there’s a good chance that in an animal you won’t find a virus. So you have to catch a bunch of them.

“Let’s say you’re looking for raccoons. You need to swab them, get fecal samples, identify genetic material. You identify 10 new viruses. Now what? Should we be worried about them? Are they a threat? What machine learning can do is say, “This virus looks a lot like other viruses that we know of.” You can go through thousands of known viruses. You can make predictions. Then you can test them on a virus you’ve never seen before.

Could machine learning, in its still early phase, have predicted the advent of Covid? No, Carl said, because the virus wasn’t known until 2019. But now that we’re sure it came from bats, machine learning could help us identify the types of bats that make up a threatens. “Finding these bats should really be a priority,” he said.

Mammals alone can carry up to 100,000 distinct viruses, not even counting those of birds or reptiles. “We are swimming in an ocean of viral diversity and we barely know it,” said Carl, author of the book.A planet of viruses.” “That’s one of the reasons why scientists need to harvest powerful tools like machine learning.”

One thing seems certain: the opportunities for transmission from animals to humans continue to increase due to climate change. As animals seek cooler climates, species will bump into each other. Viruses will jump between them. “A virus that was very far away will become very close,” Carl said.

Frustration over Shanghai’s recent and urgent pandemic shutdowns has grown so strong that displays of anger and grief have erupted in the public eye.

During the outbreak, authorities turned the city’s high-rise office buildings into mass isolation centers, replacing desks and employees with tightly crammed beds. Authorities seized citizens’ homes to set up quarantine centers in the buildings. Inside the centers, there was a lot of noise, little privacy and few showers. Garbage is piling up. The overhead lights were never off. Food was scarce.

The Chinese government generally cleans the internet of dissent. But the Times found videos and photos of the quarantines and some of the protests and do a visual analysis of what happened in the city. Looked.

Since 2017, I’ve been working for a local anime convention. Recently we finally organized our first event with the certainty that we would prevent Covid. We followed all the rules: all participants had to be vaccinated, as well as masking and social distancing. So far, we have come out of it unscathed. It was the most normal thing felt in a long time, even with the safety precautions. That, however, hasn’t stopped the event from driving a wedge between me and my partner, who is extremely worried about the virus and thinks we’ve been irresponsible. I’m at my wit’s end and just want things to go back to normal.

—Kristi, Honolulu

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Newsrust - US Top News: On the hunt for the next virus
On the hunt for the next virus
Newsrust - US Top News
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