Scientists Discover Hundreds of New RNA Viruses in Insects

A team of German researchers has discovered several hundreds of new negative strand RNA viruses and at least 20 viral genera in insects. The diversity of insect viruses is relevant to medical, environmental, and food sciences. Our knowledge...

Scientists Discover Hundreds of New RNA Viruses in Insects

The diversity of insect viruses is relevant to medical, environmental, and food sciences.

Our knowledge of insect viruses is highly biased because medical research has focused on mosquitoes and a few other blood-feeding species.

While insects are the most diversified group of animals on the planet, the great majority of all insect species remain completely unexamined for viruses.

“Every new virus we find could be a cause of illnesses that was previously unknown, both in humans and in livestock,” said Professor Christian Drosten, Director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

“The more viruses we identify and add to our database, the easier it is for us to recognize the cause of new and unusual illnesses.”

In the study, Professor Drosten and colleagues searched the most comprehensive and most evenly composed collection of insects for negative strand RNA viruses.

In 1,243 insect species of all orders, they found 488 independent viral sequences encoding an RNA-directed RNA polymerase, a signature gene for RNA viruses.

“This is probably the largest sample of animals ever screened for new viruses,” Professor Drosten said.

“With the help of these data, it will now be possible to investigate cases of rare and unusual illnesses in humans.”

“This includes patients who display all the symptoms of a viral infection, however no virus can be identified in the case in question.”

“In such cases, we use high-throughput sequencing methods to search for all the viruses present in the patient,” he added.

“If the patient has a virus, we will find it, provided it is in our database or has similarities with a virus in our database.”

“The chances of the search being successful will increase thanks to the addition of the new insect viruses.”

The findings appear in the journal PLoS Pathogens.