Virology Division News
Arch Virol 145/10 (2000)
Virus nomenclature: consensus versus chaos
V. van Regenmortel
and J. Maniloff
IBMC, Strasbourg, France
Scottish Crop Research Institute, Dundee, U.K.
ILTAB/Danforth Plant Science Center, University of Missouri, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Rochester, New York, U.S.A.
A recent, highly polemical contribution to these columns  criticized the workings of the
International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) and suggested that the new Rules
about the orthography of virus species names approved by ICTV were leading virus
nomenclature into chaos. References to receding or impending chaos are frequently made
by those who approve [6, 7] or disapprove  of the work done by the ICTV on behalf of
the world community of virologists.
In his one-sided and unbalanced diatribe against the work of the ICTV, Gibbs 
raises several issues that need to be answered. We have gauged the opinions of the ICTV
Executive Committee and of the ICTV Life Members regarding the various criticisms
levelled by Gibbs and summarize the responses below.
Several of the respondents deplored the derogatory tone used by Gibbs to refer to the
activities of the ICTV, an organization of which he is a Life Member, and stated that they
regard the ICTV as a valuable international body which, in spite of certain organizational
concerns, has served virologists well.
1. ICTV has disobeyed its own Rules
Gibbs claims that the ICTV breaks Rule 3.9 of its International Code of Virus Classification
and Nomenclature , which states that “Existing names of taxa and viruses shall be
retained wherever feasible”.
In 1998, the ICTV did indeed amend Rules 36 and 37 of its Code , which had stated
that species names were not to be italicized and not capitalized, and introduced the new rule
3.40 , which states that “Species names are printed in italics and have the first letter of
the first word capitalized”.
Gibbs does not like this new Rule and he attacks the ICTV for having introduced it. He
not only misrepresents the way in which the change was implemented but also muddles up
the very nature of the change. He maintains that the decision to introduce the new Rule was
made by the ICTV Executive Committee (EC) in “a rush at the very end of a meeting with
the airport taxis waiting outside”. In actual fact, the EC debated the issue at great length and
did so in the middle of the day, with no taxis in sight! The EC took the view that since the