There aren’t millions of unknown virus, just a few hundred thousand, according to new research in the current issue of mBio. “And given the technology we have it’s possible that in my lifetime, we’ll know the identity of every unknown virus on the planet,” said Peter Daszak, PhD, corresponding author and president of EcoHealth Alliance.

EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization that focuses on local conservation and global health issues, joined forces with the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health to identify a new strategy for quantifying the total number of wildlife viruses that could potentially cause emerging disease outbreaks that threaten both public and wildlife health.

The team combined field investigations with a new statistical approach to estimate that there are a minimum of 320,000 viruses awaiting discovery from mammals alone. This research gives scientists an estimate of the number of viral agents that may eventually cause a pandemic.

“What we currently know about viruses is very much biased towards those that have already spilled over into humans or animals and emerged as diseases. But the pool of all viruses in wildlife, including many potential threats to humans, is actually much deeper,” said lead author Simon Anthony, D Phil, a scientist at CII. “A more systematic, multidisciplinary, and One Health ramework is needed if we are to understand what drives and controls viral diversity and following that, what causes viruses to emerge as disease-causing pathogens.”

PREDICT has already discovered more than 240 novel viruses throughout the world in areas where people and animals live in close proximity and depend on the same natural resources,” said study co-author Jonna Mazet, Ph.D., director of the University of California, Davis One Health Institute and co-director of PREDICT. “That includes new coronaviruses, like the ones that cause SARS and the new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.”