Most research to date has focused on viruses which cause disease in humans, animals and plants, and those grown in labs.
But the team of scientists from Australia and China wanted to take a different approach.
They focused on viruses in the most common animal group – invertebrates, spineless creatures such as insects, spiders, worms and snails.
With advanced sequencing techniques, the scientists rapidly determined the make up of the RNA which constructs the viruses’ genomes.
This let them cross-reference the sequence of RNA to work out whether it was a new or previously discovered virus.
The study also revealed that viruses are able to trade genetic material to create new species, and that many viruses which infect vertebrates originate from those in invertebrates.
Jonathan Ball, professor of virology at Nottingham University, wrote that we may have “only just scratched the surface” of the virosphere.