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Improving on Linnaeus

Rather than saying the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis was used in the 2001 bioterrorism scare, a new genome-based naming system would call that strain 'lvlw0x'. The ancestor of that strain would likewise be 'lvlwlx.'

Virginia Tech's Boris Vinatzer and colleagues argue in PLOS One that a genome-based classification scheme such as theirs would better encompass the genetic diversity of species than the current taxonomy system based on what Carl Linnaeus developed more than 200 years ago.

"Genome sequencing technology has progressed immensely in recent years and it now allows us to distinguish between any bacteria, plant, or animal at a very low cost," Vinatzer says in a statement. "The limitation of the Linnaeus system is the absence of a method to name the sequenced organisms with precision."

The system Vinatzer and colleagues present is based on genomic similarity between organisms. Under this naming approach, the first organism for which a code is provided would receive 0s at each of the code's 24 positions, while the next one submitted would receive a code based upon how similar its genome is to that of the original organism.

"[S]o far we have not been able to take full advantage of the precision of genome sequencing for classification and naming because the current biological classification and naming system is based on the species as the basic unit," the researchers say "A genome code system like the one proposed herein could fill that need; it would provide the means to use genome sequencing to identify and systematically name any individual life form."

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