Machine learning spots treasure trove of elusive viruses

Artificial intelligence could speed up metagenomic studies that look for species unknown to science.

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Researchers have used artificial intelligence (AI) to discover nearly 6,000 previously unknown species of virus. The work, presented on 15 March at a meeting organized by the US Department of Energy, illustrates an emerging tool for exploring the enormous, largely unknown diversity of viruses on Earth. Viruses influence everything from human health to the degradation of trash, but they are hard to study. In recent years, researchers have hunted for unknown viruses by sequencing DNA in samples taken from various environments and looking for the genetic signatures of known viruses and bacteria. But that method often fails, because virologists cannot search for what they do not know. A form of AI called machine learning gets around this problem because it can find emergent patterns in mountains of information. Machine-learning algorithms parse data, learn from them and then classify information autonomously. 

By Amy Maxmen, Nature News


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