The 32-year-old UBC postdoc led a team of researchers that discovered nine new species of coronavirus and 132,000 RNA viruses.
Nine new coronaviruses have been discovered by a research team led by a former postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Medical Genetics.
Dr. Artem Babian and his team at the Serratus Project made the discovery after re-analyzing all publicly available RNA sequencing data around the world.
Working with the Cloud Innovation Center in collaboration with UBC and Amazon Web Services, the program built a “supercomputer” to analyze 20 million gigabytes of publicly available gene sequence data. Using 5.7 million biological samples from around the world, they discovered a specific gene that indicates the presence of an RNA virus.
The samples used included everything from ice-cores to animal dung.
“We are entering a new era of understanding the genetic and spatial diversity of viruses in nature and how a wide variety of animals interface with these viruses,” says Babian.
During the project, explorers found 132,000 RNA viruses, of which only 15,000 were previously known. He also discovered nine new species of coronavirus.
“Hopefully, we are not caught off guard if the novel coronavirus—like SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19—emerges again,” he says.
Babian believes that these viruses are more easily identified, and their natural reservoirs can be found faster.
“The real goal is that these infections are recognized early enough that they never become epidemics,” he says.
The Serratus Project completed research in 11 days at an innovation cost of $24,000.
Babian says the Cloud Innovation Center has allowed the team to conduct research efficiently, and that research would have taken more than a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars to do.
“If a patient presents with a fever of unknown origin, having that blood sequenced, you can now link that unknown virus to a large database of existing viruses in humans. If a patient is, for example, a viral Infection presents with unknown origin in St. Louis, you can now search through databases in about two minutes and link that virus to a camel in sub-Saharan Africa that was sampled in 2012,” they say.
B.C., 32, was doing genetic research with cancer, but changed gears when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The Cloud Innovation Center launched in January 2020 just before the pandemic and allows students, staff and faculty access to cloud technology to advance projects related to community, health and wellness.