A place for discussion of the potential adoption of a binomial nomenclature system for virus species names.
Colleagues: as a sometime Study Group Chair (two different groups of plant viruses; Bromoviridae and Geminivirdae) and longtime member of and contributor to the ICTV, I am frankly aghast that we are revisiting…
1. If a binomial system were to be finally proposed for adoption I would therefore suggest it to be in the form: italicized [Genus + Acronym] for already established species, and [Genus + whatever…
I strongly agree with Ed Rybicki comments. I think that the simple binomial nomeclature should be used instead of the suggested linnean binomial nomeclature
I am not sure there is a best way to engage the community. The best we can do is encourage communication in as many ways that makes sense and that provides an opportunity for feedback, and keeps a history of all posts. In that manner, members of the ICTV Executive Committee become aware of the ongoing discussions, can comment as desired, and most importantly, use the community's opinions in determining the final outcome.
an email could be sent out by the major virus journals, with simple poll questions, results gathered and collated, it is what we did for this type of thing, see here https://bsppjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1364-3703.2011.00752.x
In general terms, I believe that a binomial nomenclature for viruses and of the Latin or Latinized type is favorable, considering several aspects of those presented here. Leaving aside all the biological and technical considerations that exist until now, in the knowledge and study of these particular entities, such as viruses, I believe that a change towards the binomial form can lead mainly to benefits in various ways of considered in the proposal (beyond the own and logical difficulties of its gradual implementation). And I lean preferentially, towards the Latin or Latinized form, because I strongly agree (according to my work experience), on the importance of simplicity, representativeness and ease of reproduction the names of the virus species, when considering exchanges formal information, among Agencies involved, which are direct and necessary users, of the taxonomic definitions in question.
That is, as mentioned for example in the disadvantage n °3 of the "Free form text", with respect to which some epithets may be directly unpronounceable, I believe in my personal opinion, and according to my experience as an agent of an official phytosanitary organism and continuous user of nomenclatures and taxonomies, that this may eventually hinder its use and transcription, which may have no minor consequences in the field of bilateral exchanges between Agencies, negotiations and phytosanitary releases, as is our case, etc.
I also agree with those who consider the other advantages of the Latin / Latinized system, that such a system would be consistent with all other biological taxonomies and that biologists are accustomed to applying latinized binomials to taxa.
In addition to the fact that since Latin is a historical language (which does not require diacritics, etc.), it can still be considered universal, stable and translatable (and elementary affordable) by the entire international scientific community (considering all the disciplines involved).
Some preliminary thoughts (other comments regarding specific questions in the following thread)
Taxonomy is about the organized designation of whatever we are talking about. For viruses, it does make sense to establish a proper manner to designate species names, relying on genera previously established by ICTV, but not necessarily on higher-rank groupings (families, orders etc.). This principle is indeed similar in essence to the use of binomials for other life forms. Before Carl von Linné, species were designated using vernacular names and, in the scientific community, using short diagnostic phrases: quite like viruses today, except that these phrases were not unified for a given species (this unification has been one of ICTV’s achievements in the last decades). This system was almost satisfactory and although Linné did see a urge in listing all godly creatures, there was no consensus about a real need to change their designation. It is merely for the sake of convenience that Linné introduced the binomial nomenclature, first informally as “trivial” names in scientific conversations with his students. Only later did he actually introduced the binomial nomenclature as mere synonymies to more official diagnostic phrases in the first editions of his Species plantarum (Linnaeus, 1753), and finally as full entries in the last ones. The convenience began to spread and lasted until today.
By the way, it should be noticed that, in other life forms, there is no contradiction but a complementarity between the use of (Latinized) binomials and of vernacular names. For instance, everyone is OK with “Bird” being the English vernacular name for Aves (and e.g. “Oiseau” the French one, “Vogel” the German one, etc.) while within Aves, “Nightingale” is the English vernacular name for “Luscinia megarhynchos” (and e.g. “Rossignol” the French one, “Ruiseñor” the Spanish one, etc.). In the virological community, there is currently a plain confusion between vernacular and scientific names, even in English (Van Regenmortel et al., 2010): the status quo is not fully satisfactory.
Any attempt at designing a uniform manner to name virus species should cross existing Taxonomy, biological features, and a clear prospect for adoption in every community of virologists (phages, plant viruses, animal viruses, human viruses, etc.). Earlier attempts have failed, for a number of reasons related to one or more of these dimensions. Indeed, there has already been attempts to introduce Latinized binomials but these did not necessarily rely on genera and species, or other sensible properties, and they were not adopted. See for instance the result of one of these early attempts, in the title of this article from the 1st half of the 20th century (Best, 1940): “Methods for the preparation of pure tobacco mosaic virus nucleoprotein (Marmor tabaci var. vulgare, Holmes)”. Marmor tabaci (Tobacco mosaic virus) and Marmor cucumis (Cucumber mosaic virus) never belonged to the same genus –nor even to the same family– and in any case no such thing as a genus or a family of plant viruses was identified back then; therefore genus names like Marmor did not make any sense and were soon duly forgotten. More recently, two types of proposals for binomials were made: Latinized ones (Agut, 2002) or Anglicized ones (Van Regenmortel et al., 2010).
ICTV (Siddell et al., 2019) proposes three options for the current consultation. These options differ in the so-called “specific epithet”, used to designate the species within the given genus, but all three rely on the already established list of virus genera. This this shared feature does make a lot of sense and I won’t discuss it further.
--> Except maybe to suggest that some distinctive “first name” should be given in the case of species not yet assigned to a genus, in a manner more or less inspired of how “Candidatus” is used to designate non-cultured procaryotes whatever their actual genus (Murray and Stackebrandt, 1995): why not “Unassignedvirus” or an even simpler “Virus”?
Option #1: Latinized binomials
Although it would rely on established genera, it has not been adopted so far, perhaps because it has not been considered very practical. Indeed it is not.
Indeed, while this proposal is apparently rational, establishing it would imply a huge piece of work by ICTV experts to design and propose 1000s of new names “out of the blue”. I am afraid I was not convinced by the attempt made by Postler et al. (2016) to demonstrate the feasibility of such an endeavor, nor by its result on the bases of the use cases proposed (the family Arenaviridae and the order Mononegavirales).
If this however succeeds, the inevitably poor connection to already established species names would mean another thick layer of discussions in every community to reach a multitude of agreements regarding each of the Latinized epithets.
When saliva is exhausted and these agreements have finally become widely consensual (if they do), another even thicker layer of efforts can be expected for the entire community to recall and use them. In this respect, quoting Postler et al. (2016), I can hardly consider it to be “an additional advantage” that “Latinized species names will appear foreign to most readers”: I would definitely prefer a naming system that would instead appear familiar to everyone in order for it to be adopted! Just the way the binomial system was adopted some centuries ago for other life forms because it was actually simpler than the already established system of species designation. “No, please no!” is likely to be the only consensus the Latinized binomial nomenclature of viruses will ever reach.
To say it otherwise, more “ICTVwise”, I cannot foresee any good adoption prospect for an option that is so bluntly opposed of the ICTV Code (Rule #3.8 “Existing names of taxa shall be retained whenever feasible”), however smart the name proposals would actually be.
--> Inevitably, this must rule out Option #1.
An unproposed option: Anglicized binomials
Although it is mentioned but not proposed by Siddell et al. (2019), the more recent proposal with Anglicized rather than Latinized binomials, made by Van Regenmortel et al. (2010), bears the clear advantage of a good alignment with the current Anglicized taxonomy of species established by ICTV. However it also has some drawbacks, and serious ones I believe.
In most cases it would simply not be practical, and/or not actually binomial. For instance, HIV1 would not easily become Human immunodeficiency 1 Lentivirus on a daily basis in the medical communities. Even if it would, it would not really be a binomial nomenclature would it? In the case of HIV1 it would actually be a trinomial-plus-one-figure name, while other species would be attributed quadrinomial names (e.g. African horse sickness Orbivirus), or even worse. Hum.
In addition –and in fact, just like the current system–, this proposal would lead to the elaboration of complicated expressions in non-English languages (yes, there is a virology literature in vernacular languages!). For instance, in French, the sentence “the plant is infected by CMV” would become “la plante est infectée par le virus de la mosaïque du concombre (Cucumber mosaic Cucumovirus)”. This rather complicated combination of the vernacular and the Anglicized scientific names would inevitably become the doubly incorrect –yet currently quite frequent– “la plante est infectée par le Cucumber mosaic cucumovirus”, where the vernacular name is erased/crashed by the Anglicized scientific name that is used, instead of as a proper noun, as a common name (see the presence of a definite article) however in italics. What a (cucumber) soup.
--> For these reasons at least, I would not favor such a proposal either.
Option #2: alphabetical characters in a logical series
I do not think Option #2 of Siddell et al. (2019) is practical enough, despite its apparent extreme rationality. Namely, I do not see which kind of “logic” would be able to lead a “logical” series of alphanumeric characters. An alphabetical order for the already described species, then the chronological order of the discovery/description of a future virus species, most probably? But then, as the ICTV proposers list as the 2nd disadvantage, how could subsequent taxonomical reorganizations be made, when necessary, without disordering such series?
--> No: Option #2 has to be ruled out as well because it lacks flexibility. It is too rational, in a way.