The VIIIth ICTV Report [1
] lists more than 6,000 viruses classified in 1,950 species, themselves classified in 391 taxa. Thus, it was surprising to discover that GenBank (part of the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration, comprising the DNA DataBank of Japan, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, and GenBank, which is located at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in the U.S. National Institutes of Health) has collected sequences belonging to 3,142 "species" of viruses not present in the ICTV current master list of 2005.
For the past 20 years, GenBank has increased the number of sequences stored from one in 1982 to 42 million in 2002, and has increased the number of tools at the disposal of users to the point where today it is an absolutely necessary system for molecular biologists and virologists world-wide. In particular, GenBank has developed a complete database for taxonomy, including virus taxonomy, allowing virologists to search all viruses and to identify new sequences and new virus names. Were it not for the existence of this excellent system, we would not have known of the existence of these 3,142 unassigned "species" of viruses.
ICTV also has been very active in the last 20 years, incrementally increasing the number of taxa and virus names from 369 in 1985 to 7,881 in 2004. Not only have the numbers increased exponentially (about 20-fold), but the complexity of virus nomenclature and taxonomy has become tremendously complicated and controversial, even puzzling for some. However, the overall stability of this virus classification, established in 1962 [2
], is quite remarkable in that, for example, names of all genera and families established in the 1980s are still in use in 2005. The advancement with the most impact was the definition of a virus species [3
], which still is not fully understood by most virologists. Therefore, it is not surprising that its application in terms of names and concept causes problems such as the one discussed in this paper.
The listing by GenBank, but not by ICTV, of 3,142 unassigned "species" clearly demonstrates a general problem of the application of the definition of virus species and that ICTV and GenBank must work in concert to cope with the day-to-day reality of virology and virus classification, and that collectively we need to improve the system in such a way that we will rapidly classify so-called "species" of viruses and change the current system, so that we do not find ourselves in a similar situation in the future.
This paper will review the probable causes of the present situation and will identify actions that could remedy the situation both at GenBank and at ICTV. Finally a brief description of the Taxonomic Proposals Management System (TPMS), a new database to electronically handle all taxonomic proposals for ICTV, will be provided.