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Over 5,000 new RNA virus species discovered in the world’s oceans

Over 5,000 new virus species have been discovered in ocean water samples collected from all over the world, a new study found.

Researchers from Ohio State University in the US analyzed water samples using a combination of machine-learning analyses with traditional evolutionary trees to identify the RNA viruses.

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RNA viruses have ribonucleic acid (RNA) as its genetic material and are often single or double stranded. Such viruses are the most common cause of emerging diseases in humans due to their high mutation rate, according to Science Direct.

Some well-known RNA viruses include Ebola, the coronavirus and influenza.

“There’s so much new diversity here – and an entire phylum, the Taraviricota, were found all over the oceans, which suggests they’re ecologically important,” said lead author Matthew Sullivan, professor of microbiology at Ohio State University.

“RNA viruses are clearly important in our world, but we usually only study a tiny slice of them – the few hundred that harm humans, plants and animals. We wanted to systematically study them on a very big scale and explore an environment no one had looked at deeply, and we got lucky because virtually every species was new, and many were really new,” he added.

The study entitled ‘Cryptic and abundant marine viruses at the evolutionary origins of Earth’s RNA virome’ and published in the journal Science on Thursday, involved the analysis of 35,000 water samples taken from 121 locations in all five of the world’s oceans: the Pacific, Atlantic, India, Southern, and Arctic Oceans.

The researchers – who are also part of the Tara Oceans Consortium, a global project to analyze the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans – examined genetic sequences extracted from small aquatic organisms known as plankton.

Plankton are common hosts for RNA viruses, the researchers said.

They also examined sequences belonging to RNA viruses by looking for an ancient gene RdRp, a gene found in all RNA viruses. The scientists identified over 44,000 sequences with this gene.

“We benchmarked our clusters against established, recognized phylogeny-based taxa, and that is how we found we have more clusters than those that existed,” said co-first author Ahmed Zayed, a research scientist in microbiology at the university and a research lead in the EMERGE Institute.

Zayed said the extent of new data on the RdRp gene’s divergence over time leads to a better understanding about how early life may have evolved on the planet.

“RdRp is supposed to be one of the most ancient genes – it existed before there was a need for DNA,” he added. “So we’re not just tracing the origins of viruses, but also tracing the origins of life.”

Overall, they identified around 5,500 new RNA virus species falling into the five existing phyla and five new proposed phyla which they named Taraviricota, Pomiviricota, Paraxenoviricota, Wamoviricota and Arctiviricota.

Phyla are a group of related living animals or plants that rank above the class and below the kingdom and above class, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary.

“We had to benchmark the known to study the unknown,” said Sullivan, also a professor of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering, founding director of Ohio State’s Center of Microbiome Science and a leadership team member in the EMERGE Biology Integration Institute.

“We’ve created a computationally reproducible way to align those sequences to where we can be more confident that we are aligning positions that accurately reflect evolution.”

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Ukraine army denies claims Lysychansk is ‘encircled’

The Ukrainian army on Saturday rejected claims that Moscow-backed separatists and Russian forces had surrounded the key eastern city of Lysychansk, but said heavy fighting was ongoing on its edges.
“Fighting rages around Lysychansk. (But) luckily the city has not been encircled and is under control of the Ukrainian army,” Ruslan Muzytchuk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard, said on Ukrainian television, after a separatist spokesman made the allegations earlier in the day.
Capturing the city would allow the Russians to push deeper into the wider eastern region of the Donbas, which has become the focus of their offensive since failing to capture Kyiv after launching their military operation in Ukraine in late February.
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Across the Donets river from Lysychansk, the Russians seized the neighboring city Sievierodonetsk last week.
Andrei Marotchko, a spokesman for the separatist forces, earlier told the TASS news agency: “Today the Luhansk popular militia and Russian forces occupied the last strategic heights, which allows us to confirm that Lysychansk is completely encircled.”
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China adds $45 billion in stimulus to pay for infrastructure projects

China announced another stimulus measure to finance infrastructure projects, part of its push to drive investment and increase employment in the second half of this year as the economy starts to recover from the effects of Covid lockdowns.

The government will raise 300 billion yuan ($44.8 billion) to finance infrastructure projects by selling financial bonds and other methods, the State Council chaired by Premier Li Keqiang decided Wednesday, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency.

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Those bonds are usually sold by policy banks. The money will be used to replenish the capital of major projects such as new types of infrastructure, the statement on Thursday said.

These types of financial tools can help expand effective investment, drive employment and facilitate consumption and allow China to stick to its stance of “not flooding the economy with stimulus or over-printing money,” the meeting concluded, adding that this will help banks achieve a better match between their loans and deposits and improve the transmission of monetary policy.

The People’s Bank of China will take the lead to support China Development Bank and Agricultural Development Bank of China to raise the funds via financial bonds, according to a late Friday report by Financial News, a newspaper published by the central bank.

The top economic planner will come up with a list of projects for the investment, in collaboration with other agencies and state-owned enterprises, it said.

Infrastructure projects are a key factor in determining how fast the economy can grow in the remaining six months of this year as other sources of growth such as housing and private consumption are still slowing.

President Xi Jinping pledged last month to strive to meet economic targets for the year, although Beijing’s Covid Zero strategy has caused analysts to cut their forecasts for annual growth to levels far below the official goal of around 5.5 percent.

The announcement lifted the share price of heavy equipment makers in the onshore market. SANY Heavy Industry Co. climbed 4.1 percent on Friday, Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co. gained 4.9 percent and Jiangsu Hengli Hydraulic Co. rose 1.9 percent, while the benchmark CSI 300 Index dipped 0.4 percent.

New Stimulus

The new stimulus can in theory leverage as much as 1.2 trillion yuan in credit from the banking sector and capital markets, based on the government requirement that the money should be at least 20 percent of overall investment, according to Nomura Holdings Inc. economists including Lu Ting.

But its impact in reality could be much smaller, and won’t be enough to plug an estimated 6 trillion yuan funding gap that the government has to fill if it wants to carry out its proactive fiscal policy, they wrote in a note Friday.

Local authorities are under huge financial stress this year due to the cost of Covid controls and tax cuts, as well as a slump in land sales that reduced a key source of revenue.

The new money is in addition to the 800 billion yuan the three policy banks were told in June to lend for infrastructure projects. That loan quota has already been allocated to the policy banks, local newspaper the 21st Century Business Herald reported Friday, citing sources it didn’t identify.

China Development Bank was allowed to boost lending by 400 billion yuan, Agricultural Development Bank of China’s quota for new credit was 300 billion yuan and another 100 billion yuan was assigned to the Export-Import Bank of China, the newspaper reported.

The development banks’ main source of funds is issuing bonds or loans from China’s central bank, although it hasn’t been announced where the money to finance these new loans will come from.

The size of the additional bonds is only a fraction of what the policy banks normally issue in a year. The banks sold a gross amount of 5.5 trillion yuan bonds in the interbank market last year, with a monthly average of 460 billion yuan, according to Bloomberg calculation based on Chinabond and Shanghai Clearing House data. Between January and May this year, they issued 2.3 trillion yuan in bonds.

The State Council, which is China’s cabinet, also vowed to implement a batch of investment projects that are aimed at increasing workers’ income and boosting their consumption.

These projects will have to spend more than 30 percent of central government funding on paying workers, up from 15 percent previously.

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UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

A senior UN official for Libya on Saturday condemned the storming of the parliament’s headquarters by angry demonstrators as part of protests in several cities against the political class and deteriorating economic conditions.
Hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of the capital Tripoli and other Libyan cities on Friday, with many attacking and setting fire to government buildings, including the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk.
“The people’s right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected but riots and acts of vandalism such as the storming of the House of Representatives headquarters late yesterday in Tobruk are totally unacceptable,” said Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser on Libya, on Twitter.
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Friday’s protests came a day after the leaders of the parliament and another legislative chamber based in Tripoli failed to reach an agreement on elections during UN-mediated talks in Geneva. The dispute now centers on the eligibility requirements for candidates, according to the UN.
Libya failed to hold elections in December following challenges including legal disputes, controversial presidential hopefuls and the presence of rogue militias and foreign fighters in the country.
The failure to hold the vote was a major below to international efforts to bring peace to the Mediterranean nation. It has opened a new chapter in its long-running political impasse, with two rival governments now claiming power after tentative steps toward unity in the past year.
The protesters, frustrated from years of chaos and division, have called for the removal of the current political class and elections to be held. They also rallied against dire economic conditions in the oil-rich nation, where prices have risen for fuel and bread and power outages are a regular occurrence.
There were fears that militias across the country could quash the protests as they did in 2020 demonstrations when they opened fire on people protesting dire economic conditions.
Sabadell Jose, the European Union envoy in Libya, called on protesters to “avoid any type of violence.” He said Friday’s demonstrations demonstrated that people want “change through elections and their voices should be heard.”
Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country was then for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.
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