Revisiting Papillomavirus Taxonomy: A Proposal for Updating the Current Classification in Line with Evolutionary Evidence

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4 Scopus citations


Papillomaviruses infect a wide array of animal hosts and are responsible for roughly 5% of all human cancers. Comparative genomics between different virus types belonging to specific taxonomic groupings (e.g., species, and genera) has the potential to illuminate physiological differences between viruses with different biological outcomes. Likewise, extrapolation of features between related viruses can be very powerful but requires a solid foundation supporting the evolutionary relationships between viruses. The current papillomavirus classification system is based on pairwise sequence identity. However, with the advent of metagenomics as facilitated by high-throughput sequencing and molecular tools of enriching circular DNA molecules using rolling circle amplification, there has been a dramatic increase in the described diversity of this viral family. Not surprisingly, this resulted in a dramatic increase in absolute number of viral types (i.e., sequences sharing <90% L1 gene pairwise identity). Many of these novel viruses are the sole member of a novel species within a novel genus (i.e., singletons), highlighting that we have only scratched the surface of papillomavirus diversity. I will discuss how this increase in observed sequence diversity complicates papillomavirus classification. I will propose a potential solution to these issues by explicitly basing the species and genera classification on the evolutionary history of these viruses based on the core viral proteins (E1, E2, and L1) of papillomaviruses. This strategy means that it is possible that a virus identified as the closest neighbor based on the E1, E2, L1 phylogenetic tree, is not the closest neighbor based on L1 nucleotide identity. In this case, I propose that a virus would be considered a novel type if it shares less than 90% identity with its closest neighbors in the E1, E2, L1 phylogenetic tree.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2308
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Papillomaviridae
  • evolution
  • taxonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Virology


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