There is as yet no generally accepted theoretical basis for the classification of viruses. It has been suggested that this could be supplied by the theory that the properties of a virus are determined by the sequence of bases in the viral nucleic acid (1, 2). The classes which have to be constructed are then those of viruses whose nucleic acids have common base sequences and which are therefore partly equisemantic (2). Although base sequences cannot yet be directly determined, a preliminary general classification of viruses has been constructed by applying numerical taxonomic programs to attributes of viral nucleic acids (2), and could be tested by nucleic acid hybridization experiments. Discrepancies are likely to arise when intuitive ideas about virus interrelationships are compared with numerical classifications based on properties of the viral nucleic acids. Some of these may be due to faulty data, chance or distortion of relationships by the numerical program, but some may indicate relationships which were not previously considered.


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