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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Commentary

Viral taxonomy needs a spring clean; its exploration era is over

Adrian J Gibbs

Author Affiliations

Australian National University Emeritus Faculty, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia

Virology Journal 2013, 10:254  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-10-254

Published: 9 August 2013


The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses has recently changed its approved definition of a viral species, and also discontinued work on its database of virus descriptions. These events indicate that the exploration era of viral taxonomy has ended; over the past century the principles of viral taxonomy have been established, the tools for phylogenetic inference invented, and the ultimate discriminatory data required for taxonomy, namely gene sequences, are now readily available. Further changes would make viral taxonomy more informative. First, the status of a ‘taxonomic species’ with an italicized name should only be given to viruses that are specifically linked with a single ‘type genomic sequence’ like those in the NCBI Reference Sequence Database. Secondly all approved taxa should be predominately monophyletic, and uninformative higher taxa disendorsed. These are ‘quality assurance’ measures and would improve the value of viral nomenclature to its users. The ICTV should also promote the use of a public database, such as Wikipedia, to replace the ICTV database as a store of the primary metadata of individual viruses, and should publish abstracts of the ICTV Reports in that database, so that they are ‘Open Access’.