Binomial Species Names

A place for discussion of the potential adoption of a binomial nomenclature system for virus species names.

  • Dear All,


    I am glad that my proposal published in 2002 has gained a novel visibility and is now widely open to discussion under the auspices of ICTV [1, 2]. It is now recognized by colleagues that the official binomial name of virus species, albeit of limited use in papers or talks, will constitute a unique unambiguous reference in scientific exchanges whatever the vernacular (common) language used for these exchanges. This is simply the application of the principles used in all other domains of biology to the nomenclature of viruses. The robustness of the Latin binomial nomenclature proposed is based on the use of the genus name with a capital initial as the first term of the official name. I would like to make an additional comment concerning the species epithet following the first term of name. In my opinion, the epithet has to follow several rules : (i) to be unique for a given species (of course !) ; (ii) to be written in italics like the first term of the name ; (iii) to provide a valuable scientific information about the considered species (host tropism, circumstances of discovery, induced syndrome,…) ; iv) to avoid, as much as possible, conflicting interference with the common name of virus ; (v) to consist of, when possible, a single Latinized word written without any capital initial BUT, when necessary, to include more than one Latinized word and/or arabic numbers so as to respect the rules above. In short, we should be flexible and accept the free form of the epithet whenever specialists in this viral species deem it necessary.

    As examples, herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2 (HSV-1, HSV-2), also named human herpesviruses 1 and 2 (HHV-1, HHV-2), might be officially designated as Simplexvirus labialis and Simplexvirus genitalis respectively in reference to the prototypic expression of their pathogenic role in humans. However, the names Simplexvirus hominis 1 and Simplexvirus hominis 2 might be preferred because the question of host related to co-speciation process is central for herpesviruses and the spectrum of diseases induced by these viruses far exceeds oral and genital herpes. Concerning the three species of human roseoloviruses identified so far, human herpesviruses 6A, 6B, and 7 (HHV-6A, HHV-6B, HHV-7), they might be named Roseolovirus hominis 1, 2 and 3 respectively in accordance with the chronology of their discovery but the names Roseolovirus hominis 6A, 6B, and 7 would require less adaptive efforts for exhausted searchers (including myself) who spent three decades in their study.

    I am fully confident that the community of currently active virologists will find the expected consensus solutions for an official binomial Latin nomenclature without any civil war.

    Best regards

    Henri Agut


    1. Agut H (2002). Back to Latin tradition: a proposal for an official nomenclature of virus species. Arch Virol 147:1465–1470
    2. Siddell SG, Walker PJ, Lefkowitz EJ et al  (2019). Binomial nomenclature for virus species: a consultation. Arch Virol
  • war is pretty much inevitable I'm afraid.

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