Virologists align system to classify viruses with that of cellular organisms28 April 2020• NEWSITEM
A group of virus experts representing the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) has announced a fundamental change to the way viruses are systematically classified. The transformed taxonomy system allows scientists to classify viruses in a hierarchical structure similar to that used for cellular organisms, like animals, bacteria and plants. The ICTV describes their decision and its implications in a Consensus Statement in the scientific journal Nature Microbiology.
A taxonomy is a way to group organisms in clusters based on their shared characteristics, and name and assign clusters to hierarchical ranks. After multi-year deliberations, the structure of virus taxonomy is expanded by ten ranks added to the existing five-rank taxonomy. The majority of new ranks were introduced to reveal connections between distantly related viruses which were not considered in the taxonomy used over almost 30 years.
“This revolutionary advancement was prompted by the on-going massive virus discovery using next generation sequencing in metagenomics. It effectively recognizes viruses as part of our biosphere. Now viruses could be classified using principles established for cellular organisms by Carolus Linnaeus and Charles Darwin and employing methods of comparative genomics”, explains first author Alexander Gorbalenya, LUMC Professor Emeritus and past ICTV Vice-President.
Virus origins and evolution
The authors believe that the new structure of virus taxonomy will stimulate further research on virus origins and evolution and could promote crosstalk with the taxonomies of cellular organisms. Also, they illustrate how the new system will benefit medical community and public by comparing taxonomies of human Ebola virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus and herpes simplex virus 1. “This comparison shows that these viruses, although all capable infecting humans, are vastly different taxonomically on biological grounds. For instance, the human Ebola virus and SARS-CoV are as much distant to each other as would humans and yeast in the taxonomy of cellular life forms”, according to Gorbalenya.
More information? Read the paper 'The new scope of virus taxonomy: partitioning the virosphere into 15 hierarchical ranks' in Nature Microbiology.