Europic 2008

28 May 2008

Since Monday I have been in Sitges, Spain for Europic 2008. This is a scientific meeting on picornaviruses held every other year in a European country. The picornaviruses are a family of non-enveloped, positive-strand RNA viruses, and includes poliovirus, rhinovirus, and foot-and-mouth disease virus.

I have been attending Europic meetings since 1983, when it was held in Urbino, Italy. Not only is the science excellent and focussed, but the venues are fabulous. Sitges is a lovely town on the coast of the Mediterranean. While the sessions leave little time for seeing the town, it is nice to be in a different place, with old buildings, culture, and a history.

We have already held sessions on virus entry into cells, epidemiology, surveillance, and evolution. I learned yesterday that virus classification is now entirely based on sequence comparisons, with little concern for the biology of the virus. For example, the rhinovirus and enterovirus genera will be combined into one genus called enterovirus. While this change reflects the sequence relationships among the viruses, it will surely be hard to explain why respiratory viruses (rhinoviruses) are classified in a genus whose name implies replication in the enteric tract (enterovirus). The proposed changes in classification can be viewed here.

Another interesting topic was serotyping. Many years ago, new viruses were classified according to an immunological definition: If antiserum against one virus did not neutralize the infectivity of a related virus, they were said to be different serotypes. Modern sequence analyses now indicate that different serotypes are often highly related. Therefore the use of an antigenic classification is somewhat outdated. Sequence analysis will now be used to define serotype, and the different viruses will now be called types, rather than serotypes.

These changes reflect the growing influence of genomics on virology.