Applying the species concept to plant viruses

Arch Virol. 1989;104(1-2):1-17. doi: 10.1007/BF01313804.


Plant virologists who maintain that the concept of species cannot be applied to viruses argue their case in terms of an obsolete concept of biological species defined by gene pools and reproductive isolation and applicable only to sexually reproducing organisms. In fact, various species concepts have been used by biologists and some of them are applicable to asexual organisms. The rationale for applying the species concept in virology is that viruses are biological entities and not chemicals: they possess genes, replicate, specialize, evolve and occupy specific ecological niches. The following definition is proposed: a virus species is a polythetic class of viruses constituting a replicating lineage and occupying a particular ecological niche. Such a definition of the species category does not and cannot provide a list of diagnostic properties for recognizing members of a particular virus species. It should also be stressed that a single property such as an arbitrary level of genome homology or the extent of serological relationship always fails to establish membership in a polythetic class. A binomial system of nomenclature is advocated in which the vernacular English name of the plant virus is adopted as the species name and the group name is assimilated to the level of genus. Adoption of this system would ensure that a universal classification system based on the classical categories of species, genus, and family becomes possible for all viruses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Viruses / classification*
  • Species Specificity