Scientists predict the virulence of viruses using machine learning algorithm
Every day a new infectious disease is being identified. It is estimated that every year, the set of known viruses increases in number by the emergence of two new species. The newly evolved viruses are a threat to public health since it’s hard to predict how harmful they are and how would they affect the human body.
The study conducted by scientists at the University of Edinburgh reveals how harmful can be the hundreds of infectious viruses like Zika, SARS, Ebola to humans. Previous studies conducted by scientists had detected certain traits linked to the emergence of newly evolved viruses, but how these traits influence the virulence or severity of various diseases they cause was unknown.
The new viruses vary widely in their virulence. For example, Zaire ebolavirus gives rise to severe hemorrhagic fever epidemic like the one that happened in WestAfrica in 2014, leading to 60% mortality. Contrary to that, Reston ebolavirus infections in humans never exhibited any kind of disease symptoms.
The Edinburgh scientists developed a computer algorithm that can predict the virulence of 214 infectious viruses by testing a few characteristics of viruses. They used machine learning to decide whether virulence can be predicted by certain traits, including transmission routes, host range, tissue tropisms, and human-to-human transmissibility.
The researchers used the severity of the disease as a measurement of virulence. The model they developed through machine learning proposes that higher virulence is associated with the infection of nervous systems, multiple organs, or renal systems. The extent of virulence also depends on the mode of transmission of infection. The viruses which spread quickly and easily, as in the case of contact-based and airborne transmission, appeared to be less virulent.
The study of risk factors associated with viruses gives information on the evolution of viruses and the possible biological pathways through which the viruses cause diseases.
Author : Namitha Thampi