News Health/Medical AI Unravels Viral Mysteries in Oceans and Gut Microbiomes
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AI Helps Unravel Mysteries of Viruses in Oceans And Our Guts

By Libusha Kelly

Published on 16 May 2024

Viruses are enigmatic and poorly understood entities in microbial ecosystems. Researchers recognize their ability to infect, kill, and manipulate human and bacterial cells across diverse environments, from the vast oceans to our own guts.

Challenges in Studying Microbial Communities

Studying microbial communities in a laboratory setting is no easy task. Many microbes are challenging to cultivate, and their natural environment contains numerous variables that influence their success or failure. To address this, systems biologists employ DNA sequencing techniques to analyze samples – for instance, fecal samples from patients. By isolating viral DNA sequences, researchers can gain insights into the functions viruses perform in their surroundings.

The Data Dilemma

However, the rate at which scientists identify viral sequences in environmental DNA far exceeds our ability to annotate those genes. Consequently, research findings about viruses in microbial ecosystems often rely on limited data.

AI Annotation of Viral Sequences

My team and I have developed an innovative approach to address this challenge: artificial intelligence (AI) for annotating viral sequences. Leveraging protein language models – akin to large language models like ChatGPT but specific to proteins – we can classify previously unseen viral sequences. These models learn from billions of protein sequences worldwide, enabling them to infer essential information about viral proteins and their functions.

By combining AI with biological expertise, researchers can not only enhance our understanding of viruses but also tackle complex biological questions that traditional techniques struggle to answer.

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