Summary of Classify Viruses – The Gain Is Worth the Pain

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Classify Viruses – The Gain Is Worth the Pain summary

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Like bacteria, viruses exist in almost infinite varieties and numbers. And like bacteria, viruses have functions well beyond harming human beings and contain components that people can harness for medical and commercial purposes. But unlike bacteria, viruses have not yet been neatly organized and cataloged. Researchers are calling for an effort to prioritize the collection and organization of all types of viruses. Scientists can’t explore their potential unless they know what’s out there. Read this article if you’re curious about the vast diversity of the microbial world.

About the Authors

Jens H. Kuhn is the virology lead at the Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health. Yuri I. Wolf is a staff scientist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Mart Krupovic is a group leader in the Department of Microbiology, Pasteur Institute, Paris. Yong-Zhen Zhang is a professor at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center & Institutes of Biomedical Sciences, Fudan University, Shanghai, and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing. Piet Maes is an assistant professor in the Zoonotic Infectious Diseases Unit, Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Leuven. Valerian V. Dolja is a professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University. Eugene V. Koonin is a senior investigator in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.


There are millions of different viruses on Earth, and scientists don’t know how they’re related to each other – or to their hosts.

There is still debate about whether viruses are alive or not, since they can’t replicate on their own and must hijack a host cell’s metabolic processes in order to do so. But what is not up for debate is the scale of the numbers and types of viruses on Earth. Current estimates range in the millions, as there are millions of bacterial, archaeal and fungal species, and each of them likely has at least one virus that targets it. Thus far, only 4,958 distinct viral species have been enumerated and characterized, and most of them infect only a few hosts.

People might be able to use some viruses, but they don’t know they exist.

Some potential uses for viruses are already...

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