SITE VISIT: Viral Menagerie

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Science  09 Apr 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5412, pp. 219
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5412.219a

Want to know more about the virus that blighted your tomatoes last summer? Or curious about the bugs that make you sniffle and sneeze—or gravely ill? Try the Universal Virus Database at the Australian National University in Canberra. The official catalogue of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV), the site holds info on more than 4500 viruses that haunt all the kingdoms of life.

Web pages for each of about 1500 of the world's tiniest parasites, arranged in a clear tabular format, describe which organism the virus infects, what symptoms it causes, how it is transmitted, and much more. Some entries connect to the virus's genetic sequence in the GenBank genome database; links to SWISS-PROT, the corresponding protein library, are in the works. You'll find electromicrographs or schematic diagrams of some critters. The information is spotty for many viruses, however; plant viruses get the most extensive treatment, including their own database. The site is searchable and points to other viral resources on the Internet. Web master Cornelia Büchen-Osmond, who started the Virus Database in 1991, says it gets about 10,000 hits a day, with visitors ranging from high school students to hard-core virologists. And, hey, if you think you've stumbled across a new viral variety, you'll soon be able to submit it for scrutiny by ICTV experts.

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