Arch Virol 146/8 (2001)
Virology Division News
Perspectives on binomial names of virus species
M. H. V. Van Regenmortel
École Supérieure de Biotechnologie de Strasbourg, Illkirch, France
In recent years, the ICTV has been criticized [3, 4, 6] for its unwillingness to turn the
unofficial binomial names of plant virus species used by many plant virologists into official
names. It seems timely, therefore, to spell out the implications of such a binomial system if
it were used for all the official species names that appeared in the 7th ICTV Report .
Only if this is done, will it be possible for virologists to assess both the advantages and
disadvantages of a binomial system. It is hoped that the present note will elicit many
responses from individual virologists.
In the proposed binomial system, the word virus appearing at the end of the current
official species name is replaced by the genus name, which also ends in «-virus». For
Tobacco mosaic virus becomes Tobacco mosaic tobamovirus
Plumpox virus becomes Plumpox potyvirus
Rice dwarf virus becomes Rice dwarf phytoreovirus
Potato virus X becomes Potato X potexvirus
The obvious advantage of such a system is that inclusion of the genus name in the species
name indicates relationships with other viruses and thus provides additional information
about the properties of the virus.
Plant virologists have been careful to coin genus names in accordance with the ICTV
International Code and as a result, the binomial system is readily applicable to plant viruses.
For viruses infecting vertebrates, the system could also be useful since binomials would be
more informative than the current names. Thus,
Bluetongue virus would become Bluetongue orbivirus
Yellow fever virus would become Yellow fever flavivirus
Human herpesvirus 5 would become Human herpes 5 cytomegalovirus
This system should be applied only to the accepted official virus species names that at
present are written in italics and not to tentative species, strains, serotypes etc. Only the
official binomial names of virus species would thus be written in italics.
In the case of virus names that contain the word «phage», the genus name could simply
be added at the end. For example,
Bacillus phage AP50 would become Bacillus phage AP50 tectivirus
Alteromonas phage PM2 would become Alteromonas phage PM2 corticovirus