Improving Virus Taxonomy by Recontextualizing Sequence-Based Classification with Biologically Relevant Data: the Case of the Alphacoronavirus 1 Species. Academic Article uri icon


  • The difficulties related to virus taxonomy have been amplified by recent advances in next-generation sequencing and metagenomics, prompting the field to revisit the question of what constitutes a useful viral classification. Here, taking a challenging classification found in coronaviruses, we argue that consideration of biological properties in addition to sequence-based demarcations is critical for generating useful taxonomy that recapitulates complex evolutionary histories. Within the Alphacoronavirus genus, the Alphacoronavirus 1 species encompasses several biologically distinct viruses. We carried out functionally based phylogenetic analysis, centered on the spike gene, which encodes the main surface antigen and primary driver of tropism and pathogenesis. Within the Alphacoronavirus 1 species, we identify clade A (encompassing serotype I feline coronavirus [FCoV] and canine coronavirus [CCoV]) and clade B (grouping serotype II FCoV and CCoV and transmissible gastroenteritis virus [TGEV]-like viruses). We propose this clade designation, along with the newly proposed Alphacoronavirus 2 species, as an improved way to classify the Alphacoronavirus genus. IMPORTANCE Our work focuses on improving the classification of the Alphacoronavirus genus. The Alphacoronavirus 1 species groups viruses of veterinary importance that infect distinct mammalian hosts and includes canine and feline coronaviruses and transmissible gastroenteritis virus. It is the prototype species of the Alphacoronavirus genus; however, it encompasses biologically distinct viruses. To better characterize this prototypical species, we performed phylogenetic analyses based on the sequences of the spike protein, one of the main determinants of tropism and pathogenesis, and reveal the existence of two subgroups or clades that fit with previously established serotype demarcations. We propose a new clade designation to better classify Alphacoronavirus 1 members.

published proceedings

  • mSphere

altmetric score

  • 10.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Whittaker, G. R., Andr, N. M., & Millet, J. K.

citation count

  • 23

complete list of authors

  • Whittaker, Gary R||AndrĂ©, Nicole M||Millet, Jean Kaoru

editor list (cited editors)

  • Fernandez-Sesma, A.

publication date

  • February 2018