The Laboratory for RNA-Based Lifeforms (RNAlab) @ University of Toronto is a combined Computational and Molecular research team. Our passion is in understanding the interplay between RNA elements and Genetics. The primary domain where we interrogate this question is through the exploration of the vast evolution and biodiversity of Earth’s RNA viruses.

Our Work

Serratus: Foundations for a Planetary-Scale Virus Surveillance Network

DNA and RNA sequencing data is growing exponentially, outpacing Moore’s Law. Currently, public databases contain 60+ million gigabytes (60 petabytes) of sequencing data from 10+ million samples, and this doubles every 18 months. Samples range from cancer cells in a lab at UofT, to anal swabs of penguins in Antarctica and everything in-between. Along with what researchers intended to study, sequences from the viruses can also be captured, yet go unanalyzed.

At most 0.1% of Earth’s viruses have been identified, so to characterize the full diversity of the viruses on Earth, we develop computing algorithms and techniques to analyze sequencing data at the petabyte-scale. In effect, we recycle billions of dollars of data to drive biological discovery. Recently, in one 11-day analysis we discovered 130,000+ new species of RNA viruses, nearly 10x more than were previously known (including nine new species of surprising Coronaviruses). Moving forward we are developing a system to monitor this global-stream of sequencing data to identify where and when pathogens of pandemic potential show up. It is better that we find them, before they find us.


2023-05-05 - RNA virus / Viroid Hybrid Publication

Hybrids of RNA viruses and viroid-like elements replicate in fungi. We massively (+20,000 species) expand the universe of viroid-like agents, including the characterization of a Viroid-like RNA virus (or RNA virus-like Viroid) hybrid infectious agent. This work joins two kingdoms of infectious agents, and offers insights into how primordial viruses may have arisen.

2023-05-01 - Summer intake & awards

The RNAlab is booting up. Welcome Declan, Aiden, and Jawad (research assistants); as well as Luke and Alex (engineers) to the lab! * : Recieved UROP awards.

2023-01-10 - Research Symbiont Award 2022

Artem/Serratus has been awarded the coveted 2023 Research Symbiont Award for outstanding data-sharing resulting in a substantial impact on human health.

2022-10-22 - Founding of RNAlab

The Laboratory for RNA-Based Lifeforms is officially opening it’s doors in The Donnelly Centre for Cellular + Biomolecular Research at the University of Toronto.