TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Researchers at the University of Florida are using artificial intelligence, or AI, to predict new variants of COVID-19.

According to the university, researchers are using AI and machine learning to build an algorithm to spot new variants of concern, using a $3.7 million research grant.

Professors Marco Salemi, Ph.D., and Mattia Prosperi, Ph.D,, M.Eng., are leading the research that is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“The coronavirus is a moving target and we have always been one step behind,” said Salemi, a professor of experimental pathology in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine and the Stephany W. Holloway University Chair in AIDS Research. “Every time the epidemic seems to be coming under control, another variant emerges that is more virulent — not necessarily causing more severe disease, but certainly more transmissible — and it spreads again.”

The team of researchers will use data available to the public from global repositories (where researchers upload genetic sequences of the virus) to “train” their algorithm.

The algorithm will be designed to detect anomalies in new variants that may signal a cause for worry to public health, according to UFHealth.

“We would know right away if a new variant can potentially take over the population rapidly,” said Salemi.

UFHealth said in theory, the algorithm could be a tool that would raise a red flag when a potential new variant of concern to public health is uploaded to public databases.

The variant could then be tested to see whether it attacks cells quickly or is resistant to antibodies.

Salemi’s lab began sequencing virus samples from Alachua County residents in 2019.

You can read more about UF’s research on its algorithm and work to predict new, concerning variants of COVID-19 on the UF Health website.