Corona, flu and hepatitis C have one thing in common: They are triggered by so-called RNA viruses. Scientists have now discovered a large number of previously unknown viruses of this type. But that’s not a cause for concern, they say.

An international research team has discovered more than 100,000 previously unknown RNA viruses. RNA viruses are those in which the genetic material consists of RNA, i.e. ribonucleic acid. This is a chemical compound present in all living cells and structurally similar to the genetic material DNA. Some of the more dangerous RNA viruses include the coronavirus, influenza viruses, and dengue and hepatitis C viruses.

The discovery, made by Israeli researchers, has now been published in Cell, the leading journal for biochemistry and molecular biology. The number of known viruses has increased ninefold. However, the scientists see no reason for concern. On the contrary, the latest discovery could provide a boost for the development of treatments against antibiotic-resistant pathogens, they write. In addition, defensive measures against bacteria, fungi and pests could be developed with the help of the newly discovered viruses, which could primarily benefit agriculture.

The aim of the study was to advance the scientific understanding of RNA viruses in the environment, said research team leader Uri Gophna of Tel Aviv University’s Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research in an initial statement on the discovery US magazine Newsweek. “Almost all RNA viruses studied so far are pathogens that are important for human health and agriculture.” One suspected that there must be a large variety of RNA viruses that had remained unexplored until now. Certainty now, Gophna stated.

Research on RNA viruses is also in full swing in Germany. The virologist Professor Ralf Bartenschlager received the renowned Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine 2022, which is endowed with 300,000 euros have contributed and we can expect to do so in the future as well.”

Bartenschlager, scientist at the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), received the award for his research on virus replication and the interaction between viruses and the body’s own defences. For example, the propagation system he developed for hepatitis C viruses in cell cultures made a decisive contribution to the later approval of the first drug against hepatitis C in 2014. In the meantime, this therapy leads to a complete cure of the infection in 95 percent of those affected.

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