There are still scientific discoveries to be made! The new EU project, Virus-X, plans to explore new frontiers in a number of areas.
Viruses seem ubiquitous in almost unimaginable numbers in all conceivable ecosystems. The virosphere represents the largest reservoir of unknown genetic diversity on Earth. For example, there are enormous numbers of virus particles in seawater, where millions of particles can be found in a single drop.
In addition, there is tremendous interest in the relatively un-explored, biological sequence diversity in what the Virus-X application described as “the vast sequence space of viral genomes”. To bio-prospectors, un-explored genetic diversity means potential innovation opportunities, and the possibility for biotechnical breakthroughs.
Viruses are of basic science interest
Virus-X will explore the impact of viruses on microbial communities. Researchers will study virus-host interactions, virus diversity and other ecological questions in selected habitats. On a larger scale, better knowledge of viruses will give us greater understanding of the functional dynamics of ecosystems. It seems that viruses may play a key role in global biodiversity and evolution at the species and genome level. They may also impact geochemical cycles on a global scale.
Viruses have significant biotechnology and bioprospecting potentials
Largely using sequence-based metagenomics approaches, Virus-X will explore and exploit the genetic diversity of viruses that are of biotechnological and ecological interest. Already today, many virally-derived DNA and RNA processing enzymes are in use in biotechnological processes. The large potential for new, innovative opportunities from the discovery of novel viral proteins with biotechnical applications is a primary driving force behind Virus-X. The project partners include 5 Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) that will work closely with the research institutions in any possible exploitation innovations resulting from Virus-X findings.
Frontier science is challenging
Viral metagenomics is cutting-edge. It is much less well-established than microbial (bacterial and archaeal) metagenomics. Many challenges remain to be addressed at all levels of the metagenomics pipeline. Virus-X aims to develop and advance the viral metagenomics toolbox significantly, thereby enabling researchers to better explore and potentially exploit the viral biological diversity, which is the largest unexplored genetic reservoir on Earth.