Petabase-scale sequence alignment catalyses viral discovery

Nature. 2022 Feb;602(7895):142-147. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04332-2. Epub 2022 Jan 26.


Public databases contain a planetary collection of nucleic acid sequences, but their systematic exploration has been inhibited by a lack of efficient methods for searching this corpus, which (at the time of writing) exceeds 20 petabases and is growing exponentially1. Here we developed a cloud computing infrastructure, Serratus, to enable ultra-high-throughput sequence alignment at the petabase scale. We searched 5.7 million biologically diverse samples (10.2 petabases) for the hallmark gene RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and identified well over 105 novel RNA viruses, thereby expanding the number of known species by roughly an order of magnitude. We characterized novel viruses related to coronaviruses, hepatitis delta virus and huge phages, respectively, and analysed their environmental reservoirs. To catalyse the ongoing revolution of viral discovery, we established a free and comprehensive database of these data and tools. Expanding the known sequence diversity of viruses can reveal the evolutionary origins of emerging pathogens and improve pathogen surveillance for the anticipation and mitigation of future pandemics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Archives
  • Bacteriophages / enzymology
  • Bacteriophages / genetics
  • Biodiversity
  • Cloud Computing*
  • Coronavirus / classification
  • Coronavirus / enzymology
  • Coronavirus / genetics
  • Databases, Genetic*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Hepatitis Delta Virus / enzymology
  • Hepatitis Delta Virus / genetics
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • RNA Viruses / classification
  • RNA Viruses / enzymology
  • RNA Viruses / genetics*
  • RNA Viruses / isolation & purification*
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase / chemistry
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase / genetics
  • Sequence Alignment / methods*
  • Software
  • Virology / methods*
  • Virome / genetics*


  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase