Virologists split plans to change virus-naming rules during epidemic

A coronavirus particle is seen under a transmission electron microscope.Sincerely: AMI Images / Science Photo Library

Virologists are debating whether to establish a system for naming virus species later this year. Some researchers say the way the virus is named is disorganized and a standardized system is urgently needed. But others say that now is not the time to engage in an academic discussion on naming conventions, when viruses are focused on fighting the epidemic.

Virologists currently name the species – the most basic tax-related rank – in many ways, often depending on where the virus is found, the animals that host it or cause the disease. Many argue that the lack of inferences is frustrating for researchers who routinely identify new viruses. This also causes confusion when the common name of the virus is the same as the name of its species, as with the Verola virus (Variola virus), Which causes smallpox.

The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV), the organization overseeing the naming of the virus taxa, has proposed1 A naming system, which will be put to a vote in October. If a system is implemented, it may change how nearly all of the more than 6,500 known viral species are named.

“This is obviously good and is a standardized classification scheme for naming virus species, as the current ‘system’ is completely chaotic and a major source of frustration for those of us who regularly visit novel viruses.” Identify, ”says Edward Holmes, a virologist at the University of Sydney in Australia. But “effort” can be classified as ‘immediate’ compared to the global epidemic.

Other researchers believe that now is the right time for such practice. Genome-sequencing technology has led to a boom in the number of viruses and species over the past 15 years, says Eric Delvert, a virologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “This is the golden age of virus discovery. This is a good time to start organizing the deluge of the viral genome, ”he says.

This debate has arisen amid discussion about another naming issue: how to classify thousands of genomes of SARS-CoV-2, which causes the virus COVID-19, which is being sequenced worldwide. Groups of developmental viruses of the same species are often described as lineages. It is important that if mutations make the virus more contagious or more dangerous, it is important to track them. ICTV sets the rules for species level only, but Holmes and other virologists independent of ICTV proposed2 A method for naming SARS-CoV-2 linings.

time pressure

Currently, the only requirements for a viral species name are that it is italicized (with the first word capitalized) and appropriately unambiguous, and that it uses as few words as possible – although some names are longer, such as Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Indonesia Virus. On 3 December, members of the Executive Committee of ICTV published a paper1 In Archives of archeology Propose a new format in which species names will be limited to two words.

The first word will be genus (finally –Virus), Which is defined as a group of species sharing some common characteristics. The paper proposes three alternatives to the second term. The alternative is to always use a Latin word, such as conforming to the same rules for naming biological organisms Homo sapiens. The second option will limit the second word to numbers or letters, such as Alphacoronavirus 1, And the third would open it up to any set of characters. Therefore, the existing names would be condensed to a single, possibly Latinized, word or a number or letter.

The paper, which is the result of several years of public deliberations, called for researchers to react by 30 June, ahead of a decision at the next meeting of the committee in October. That decision will then be voted on by all ICTV members.

But many virologists say they did not pay attention to the paper at the time, and then drifted off in a coronovirus reaction. “In an ideal world, we would all be looking at these journals, but the amount of literature we had to keep in mind,” says Katherine Spindler, a virologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. American Society for Virology (ASV) – one of the largest virology communities in the world, with more than 3,000 members in some 20 countries. “What does the classification affect me?” This only happens when I write a paper, ”says Spindler, who learned counseling after the June 30 deadline. He and the rest of the ASV Executive Committee wrote to the ICTV committee on 9 July, stating that their members did not have enough time to consider the issue.

The Australian Virology Society (AVS), representing some 700 members in Australia and New Zealand, Sent your letter To ICTV on 4 July. “We believe that 2020, the year of COVID-19, is not an appropriate time to make a major change in the naming of virus species. Our members have been stretched to the limit with other functions, and many have not found time to properly consider the matter, ”the letter said.

In response to concerns about timing, ICTV President Andrew Davison, a virologist at the University of Glasgow, UK, says a version of the proposal has been on ICTV’s agenda for almost two years, but he expects the committee to consider all Will do. Relevant factors in its meeting. “I agree that these are unusual times,” he says.

Learn latin

In their letters, ASV and AVS also state that they oppose the idea of ​​mandating Latinized names, as this would require virologists to learn Latin grammar, and make it cumbersome to implement. Both groups prefer the option in which any term can be used as a species name, although the highest priority of AVS would be to maintain status quo, its letter stated. “There is no need to overhaul the entire system,” says Gilda Tchjian, president of AVS, a virologist at the Burnett Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

When the species is named, virologists will only need to know the appropriate Latin suffix, says Jens Kuhn, a virologist and member of the ICTV Executive Committee at the Integrated Research Facility in Fort Kirik, Maryland. Latin words will also be universal, letters published in languages ​​other than English do not require translation, he says.

SARS-CoV-2 variety

Virologists have fewer contradictions about the immediate need in the naming of many SARS-CoV-2 lineages, which are being labeled in an ad hoc manner. “We are obviously going to end up with over 100,000 complete genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2, which is staggering. “It is important to come up with a simple, rational and widely adopted plan to classify this diversity,” says Holmes.

No official body decides how to name a viral lineage. “We have tried and to solve it. Whether people will adopt it is another matter: it really depends on the users, ”says Holmes.

He and his colleagues have proposed a dynamic method that prioritizes nomadic lineages that have seeded an epidemic. The lineage will be labeled active, unattainable or inactive based on recent isolates; These labels will be regularly redefined depending on whether the lineage is still spreading. Method was described2 In Nature microbiology On 15 July and appears to have received support among virologists. The team has also developed an online tool to help users identify which lineage they belong to.

Such a system can make it easier to monitor lineages with unique pathogenic properties, says Elliot Lefkowitz, a virologist and member of the ICTV Executive Committee at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

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