What is it ?
Viromics, a term derived from “virus” and “genomics,” refers to the study of the entire viral community in a particular environment or that can be identified by high-throughput sequencing techniques. Essentially, it seeks to comprehensively describe the viral diversity, abundance, and function in diverse ecosystems. As viruses lack a universal genetic marker (eg 16S rRNA gene found in bacteria), viromics relies on the sequencing of all nucleic acids in a sample, followed by computational methods to extract and analyze the viral genetic information. Currently most viromics studies have focused on dsDNA viruses.
Several factors underscore the importance of viromics:
- Viral Diversity: Viruses are the most numerous biological entities on Earth. They can be found in almost every conceivable environment, from oceans to soil to the human gut. Their sheer diversity and abundance make traditional culture-based methods of study insufficient, necessitating the development of methods like viromics.
- Ecological Impact: Viruses play pivotal roles in global biogeochemical cycles. For instance, in marine environments, viral lysis of phytoplankton and bacteria releases a significant amount of organic carbon, influencing carbon cycling. Understanding this viral-mediated process can provide insights into global ecological dynamics.
- Health Implications: Viral communities, especially those in the human body, have health implications. Changes in the virome have been correlated to various diseases- mechanistic studies are still lacking. Viromics offers a way to study these links, potentially leading to diagnostic and therapeutic innovations.
- Discovery of Novel Viruses: Viromics enables the identification of previously unknown viruses. This is of particular importance in monitoring emerging infectious diseases or understanding the full viral ecology of specific habitats.
- Virus-Host Interactions: By studying the viromes of different environments, researchers can infer potential virus-host interactions, revealing the intricate balance between viruses and their host organisms.
Challenges in viromics include the vast genetic diversity of viruses, the lack of a universal viral marker, and computational difficulties in distinguishing viral sequences from host and microbial sequences. Nonetheless, advancements in sequencing technology and bioinformatics are continually improving the field’s accuracy and scope, solidifying viromics as a powerful tool in viral ecology and health research.