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Emerging Issues in Virus Taxonomy


Emerging Issues in Virus Taxonomy

Marc H V van Regenmortel et al. Emerg Infect Dis.


Viruses occupy a unique position in biology. Although they possess some of the properties of living systems such as having a genome, they are actually nonliving infectious entities and should not be considered microorganisms. A clear distinction should be drawn between the terms virus, virion, and virus species. Species is the most fundamental taxonomic category used in all biological classification. In 1991, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) decided that the category of virus species should be used in virus classification together with the categories of genus and family. More than 50 ICTV study groups were given the task of demarcating the 1,550 viral species that were recognized in the 7th ICTV report, which was published in 2000. We briefly describe the changes in virus classification that were introduced in that report. We also discuss recent proposals to introduce a nonlatinized binomial nomenclature for virus species.


Schematic representation of five members of a polythetic class characterized by five properties, 1–5. Each member possesses several of these properties, but no single property is present in all the members of the class. This missing property in each case is represented by the gray sector.

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