AI to humanity's rescue! New tool can predict deadly virus strains even before they appear

A group of researchers have developed a new AI tool that can predict new virus variants before they even appear. The findings of their research have been published in the Nature Journal.

| Updated on: Oct 26 2023, 18:31 IST
Know all about the AI tool that can potentially predict virus strains before they appear. (Unsplash)
Know all about the AI tool that can potentially predict virus strains before they appear. (Unsplash)

Generative artificial intelligence has become a major discussion point in 2023, but we generally hear about its consumer-focused or business-focused applications. However, generative AI is not just limited to this space as it has made a strong impact in academics and research fields as well. A new report has highlighted that a group of researchers have developed an AI tool that can potentially predict deadly viruses before they can appear. This model can be crucial in predicting COVID-19-like pandemic situations ahead of time, and enable governments and the healthcare industry to be better prepared.

According to a report by VOA News, the creators of the tool said that the AI model works by estimating the possibility that a virus variant will be able to escape the body's natural immune system. The tool, EVEscape, works by analyzing gathered data pertaining to the virus's progression or mutation over a period of time. The system also takes into account the comprehensive biological and structural data associated with the virus in order to make a full prediction.

AI tool that can predict new virus strains

The study containing the team's findings was published in the journal Nature. The approach represents a type of "generative AI," a concept denoting technology tools crafted to perform at levels comparable to humans. EVEscape was created by a collaboration of researchers from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

The reason this research and developing of such tools is important is because viruses, whenever they come in contact with living organisms, mutate and change their RNA structure. This mutation is a natural instinct to survive and get stronger. Every time, a virus enters a new organism, it will mutate and become stronger, provided it can fight off the immune system. Once enough mutation allows it to escape human immunity, it becomes extremely dangerous.

The scientists extended their prior efforts that revolved around a tool they developed known as EVE. This tool was specifically designed for investigating gene mutations responsible for human diseases. In a previous research project, the team reported their successful utilization of EVE in identifying mutations associated with conditions such as cancer and heart disease.

“We want to know if we can anticipate the variation in viruses and forecast new variants — because if we can, that's going to be extremely important for designing vaccines and therapies,” said senior author Debora Marks, professor of systems biology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School.

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First Published Date: 26 Oct, 18:31 IST