Researchers propose a naming system based on genomic information for all Earth’s life.

By | February 24, 2014

WIKIMEDIA, GRINGERCodes based on quantitative assessments of genomic similarity could complement current nomenclature for all sequenced organisms on Earth, researchers at Virginia Tech proposed in PLOS One last week (February 21). Boris Vinatzer and his colleagues suggested that such a system could help describe within-species variation, which is increasingly being realized as more genomes are sequenced. The researchers also suggested that this system could be standardized in a way traditional Linnaean taxonomy cannot. “The limitation of the Linnaeus system is the absence of a method to name the sequenced organisms with precision,” Vinatzer said in a statement.

In their paper, the researchers demonstrated how such a genome similarity-based system is largely align with current taxonomic groups in bacteria, viruses, plants, and animals.

Virginia Tech said it is submitting a patent describing the naming approach, and that Vinatzer and coauthor Lenwood Heath have founded a company that intends to license the scheme. Comments posted to Reddit over the weekend questioned the patent-and-licensing approach.

“A patent on a universal naming system is an odd idea,” wrote user Smallpaul. Username185 added: “Seems like a power play to prevent people from creating similar naming conventions based on genome.” 

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Avatar of: JonRichfield


Posts: 133

February 25, 2014

I have been muttering about the shortcomings of Linnaean taxon nomenclature since the eighties at least, arguing that something based on tree nomenclature was needed. That was however before the field of genomics exploded, offering the basis for a definitive system.

I foresee major upheavals before the new system(s) are generally accepted, let alone generally understood, and even more ructions before the concept of a species is properly defined and reconciled with the realities of the field, both in sympatric and parapatric populations, let alone ring species.

However, some development of such a theme certainly is the way to go, though many distinctions would be radically dependent on fuzzy logic and philosophy; consider the old saw that if no genetic line had ever died out, all cellular life at least would be just one species...

I am however totally nonplussed at the idea of patenting it. What on Earth is the point, what would it even mean (you mean I won't be allowed to describe my newly-discovered Notonectid until I buy... what?)
Oh well, I'll just watch this space...!

Avatar of: LuisHernandez


Posts: 1

February 25, 2014

Indeed, there are some limits in what Linnean system can do. There are so many forms of life on earth, and not all of them can be named accordingly. However, i do not believe we should think in a new scheme as a way to replace the older one, because there is no need to do so. I do support new ideas that solve problems with those forms of life that are hard to clasify using the current system.

I have a concern about this patent issue. What does that mean exactly? and what is the interest of asking a patent for something like this? Do i need to pay something for use the system in my research?

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