The Project will use customized, cutting-edge computerized tools to identify communities of bacteria and viruses capable of persisting in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid of patients with ME/CFS and multiple sclerosis (MS). The analysis will be performed by a team at University of California, Berkeley who are characterizing global viral communities with the ambitious Uncovering the Earth’s Virome initiative.

Their team has created IMG/VR – the world’s largest and most diverse viral database. This technology allows them, in a single analysis, to identify known and novel bacteria, archea, DNA viruses, RNA viruses, retroviruses, bacteriophages, and specific viral groups (including mycoviruses, giant viruses, and virophages).

The Berkeley team’s ability to identify both known and novel organisms in patient samples is crucial. Current science estimates that only 2% of viruses in the human body have been characterized and named. Indeed, the Uncovering the Earth’s Virome initiative is proceeding at a breakneck pace, and has more than tripled the number of known viruses on Earth since August 2016. This team is therefore uniquely positioned to investigate the possibility that novel, as-yet unidentified viruses may contribute to ME/CFS and MS.

Importantly: organisms acting within communities can have effects well beyond their individual actions – a fact that is central to our approach. We can use ancillary computer-based approaches to predict relationships among the organisms identified in any tested sample. For example, we plan to examine the influence of bacteriophages, which are viruses that can infect and modulate the activity of bacteria. Billions of bacteriophages are now understood to persist in human tissue and blood, but their activity in chronic conditions such as ME/CFS and MS has, until now, been understudied.

Other Projects strengths:

– First to look for persistent viruses and bacteria in ME/CFS cerebrospinal fluid

– Conducted in parallel with a Harvard team using the same technologies in Alzheimer’s brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid

– Our initial work in blood and cerebrospinal fluid establishes a pipeline to identify viruses, bacteria and fungi in other sites such as brain tissue, lymph nodes, synovial fluid, and more