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First estimate of total viruses in mammals
Date:9/2/2013

ulation," Dr. Anthony continues, adding that prevention is crucial when it comes to viral infections since antivirals are notoriously difficult to develop.

Plumbing the Depths of the Zoonotic Pool

A continued systematic effort to discover mammal viruses would provide a more accurate estimate on total number of viruses in what co-author Stephen Morse, PhD, co-director of the PREDICT Project and professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School, calls the "zoonotic pool" of potential viral pathogens that threaten humans.

The researchers say the initial estimate of 320,000 is just a starting point and will likely be considerably higher after accounting for additional viral families and employing high throughput sequencing methods developed at CII. They also point to several unknowns, including whether or not the samples from flying foxes in Bangladesh are representative of all flying foxes, which range across Southern Asia; whether or not all mammal species harbor a similar number of viruses; and the extent to which viruses are shared from species to species (as seen with the human, bovine, and avian viruses in the flying fox). Furthermore, the cost of collecting samples could vary depending on habitat (the flying fox expedition in Bangladesh was relatively low compared with similar undertaking for an animal living in more remote areas).

To help fill in some of these blanks, the team is repeating the process in two follow-up studies -- one in a species of primates in Bangladesh in order to see if their viral diversity is comparable to the flying fox's, and another in Mexico, where analysis of samples from six species of bats that share the same habitat will be undertaken to determine the extent to which they share viruses. With additional resources, they hope to expand the investigation to other species and viral families.

"To quote Benjamin Franklin, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," says senior auth
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Contact: Timothy S. Paul
tp2111@columbia.edu
212-305-2676
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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