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Dr. Colin Carlson leads the charge against animal-borne viruses using machine learning!

This week, Dr. Colin Carlson, an Assistant Research Professor at the Center for Global Health Science and Security and a member of the Bansal Lab, was featured in a New York Times story  (new window)about his incredible work with machine learning and viruses! As part of the Verena Consortium (new window), an initiative studying the emergence of viruses from animal hosts, Dr. Carlson has designed machine-learning algorithms that can predict which of the countless viruses present in animal hosts may spread to humans. First, he and his collaborators tested the program on training data: past data from already-studied pathogens, allowing the algorithm to become fine-tuned for predicting emergence risk with several factors. Now, they are beginning to test the algorithm on unknown pathogens, allowing for a determination of the viruses with the highest potential of spreading to humans. One of their most striking findings has been that mousepox, a virus previously thought to be low-risk, is one of the riskiest pathogens currently identified in animals. Although the idea of viruses crossing the species barrier is certainly harrowing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, work like Dr. Carlson’s will allow scientists to pinpoint their studies and prepare for future pandemics with predictive power. In the Bansal Lab, Dr. Carlson also works to analyze the impact of climate change on viral emergence. According to new research (new window) published in Nature by Dr. Carlson and Dr. Shweta Bansal, climate change will result in thousands of new viruses spreading among animal species by 2070 and will likely increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases. Overall, Dr. Carlson’s work is essential to understanding not just the current pandemic, but future pandemics.