How to use the Virus Metadata Resource (VMR) to find the species name of a virus
Note that the species names, Morbilllivirus hominis and Orthorubulavirus parotitidis, are not yet part of the official virus taxonomy. They were approved by the ICTV Executive Committee in July, 2022 and will only become official following ratification in Spring, 2023. At that time they will replace the current species names, Measles morbillivirus and Mumps orthorubulavirus as a part of MSL #38.
Prepared and narrated by Stuart Siddell, ICTV Vice President, 2022
This short video explains how to find the species name for a virus by using a spreadsheet called the Virus Metadata Resource, or VMR for short.
Like everyone else, virologists tend to call viruses by their common names. We are all familiar with the common names of viruses such as measles, mumps or rubella virus.
But common names are not ideal for scientific purposes. They are usually different in different languages and even in the same language, some viruses may have more than one name
As scientists, we can avoid any ambiguity by classifying viruses into groups, which we call taxa. Experts at the ICTV are responsible for deciding which viruses are assigned to which taxa and the names for these taxa
So, measles virus is classified in the species Morbillivirus hominis, mumps virus is classified in the species Orthorubulavirus parotitidis and rubella virus is classified in the species Rubivirus rubellae.
The first step in relating a virus name to its species name is to use the VMR spreadsheet, which can be downloaded from the ICTV website. You can use this URL to reach the web site
Once you reach the ICTV home page, you can move to the Taxonomy tab, scroll down and select the "Virus Metadata Resource" option
This takes you directly to the VMR page. Near the top you will find a link that will download a copy of the most recent VMR file to your computer.
Open the file. The default application is Microsoft Excel.
After making a few adjustments, such as the magnification and the position, the spreadsheet will look something like this.
In this exercise, we are primarily interested in column R, a list of virus names, and column P, a list of corresponding species names. We can now use the Excel FIND function to search the list of virus names. For example, a search for rubella virus produces the following result.
We can see two columns to the left that rubella virus is classified in the species Rubivirus rubellae. Note that in the default mode, the FIND function is not sensitive to capital letters. A search for Rubella virus works just as well. But it is sensitive to an exact search, and that includes spaces.
Of course, it may not always be this straight-forward. For example, if the search term is imprecise, there may be several hits. Searching for a generic name, such as rotavirus, will return nine hits corresponding to nine different species of rotavirus, A to J.
We are also aware that the VMR is not exhaustive. There may be virus names that are colloquial, or no longer used. Or you may be searching for a virus that has not yet been classified by the ICTV.
In this graph, you can see that the number of species created by the ICTV is increasing year by year over the last decade. We expect this trend will continue.
Finally, you will have noticed that the VMR contains a significant amount of additional information. To the left of the virus species names, you will find the full taxonomic placement of all current virus species from the ranks of species to realm. This will help you to explore the higher taxonomy of the viruses that interest you.
To the right of the virus names, you will find virus name abbreviations, a link to the genomic sequence record, as well as the genome composition and the natural hosts of the viruses.
If you have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us. Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You will find a link at the bottom of the ICTV home page.