No more viruses?

2 July 2008

In finishing up details on our new version of “Principles of Virology”, I came across this outdated statement in the introduction of volume 19 of “Comprehensive Virology”, written in 1984:

“Virology, as a science, having passed only recently through its descriptive phase of naming and numbering, has probably reached that stage at which relatively few new – truly new – viruses will be discovered.”

Today this statement is incorrect. Sensitive methods of genome amplification and detection have lead to the discovery of many ‘truly new’ viruses. It’s quite clear that the oceans are full of new viruses, yet to be discovered; and if we would only systematically look in wild animals, we are likely to find many more.

It would probably be accurate to say that we will be discovering new viruses for quite some time. However, the point of this post is that such predictive statements about virology are likely to be proved wrong in the future – so I will refrain from predicting.