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Post: Machine Learning Identifies the Next Deadly Virus

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Machine Learning Identifies the Next Deadly Virus

Credit: iStock. Researchers from the University of Waterloo have successfully classified 191 previously unidentified astroviruses using a new machine learning-enabled classification process.

Astroviruses are some of the most damaging and widespread viruses in the world. These viruses cause severe diarrhea, which kills more than 440,000 children under the age of five annually. In the poultry industry, astroviruses like avian flu have an 80 per cent infection rate and a 50 per cent mortality rate among livestock, leading to economic devastation, supply chain disruption, and food shortages.

Astroviruses mutate quickly and can spread easily across their more than 160 host species, putting researchers and public health officials in a constant race to classify and understand new astroviruses as they emerge. In 2023, there were 322 unidentified astroviruses with distinct genomes. This year, that number has risen to 479. Want more breaking news?

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“At any given point, between two and nine per cent of humans carry one of these viruses. That number can be as high as 30 per cent in some countries,” said Fatemeh Alipour, PhD candidate in computer science at Waterloo and the lead computer science author of the research study. “Understanding and classifying these viruses effectively is essential for developing vaccines.”

The astrovirus research team included computer science researchers at Waterloo and biology researchers at the University of Western Ontario.

The new three-part classification method includes supervised machine learning, unsupervised machine learning, and manual labelling of each astrovirus’s host.“The main idea behind the classification method is to leverage machine […]

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