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The Harold Varmus Papers

Letter from John M. Coffin, Tufts University School of Medicine to Harold Varmus pdf (77,102 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from John M. Coffin, Tufts University School of Medicine to Harold Varmus
Number of Image Pages:
2 (77,102 Bytes)
1985-08-23 (August 23, 1985)
Coffin, John M.
Tufts University School of Medicine
Varmus, Harold
Original Repository: University of California, San Francisco. Archives and Special Collections. Harold E. Varmus Papers
Reproduced with permission of John M. Coffin.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Terminology as Topic
Exhibit Category:
AIDS and HIV: Science, Politics, and Controversy, 1981-1993
Box Number: 2
Folder Number: 15
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Physical Condition:
Series: UCSF Collections
SubSeries: Collection Number MSS 88-47
SubSubSeries: Human Retrovirus Study Group, 1981-1987
Folder: Human retrovirus subcommittee correspondence, 1985-1986
August 23, 1985
Dear Harold,
A quick response to your latest mailing:
I am in full agreement with your position. As I stated previously, I would favor any name that does not impose (or give the appearance of imposing) taxonomic preconceptions on the nomenclature. Additionally, a chosen name should be easy to say and to remember and, to the greatest extent possible, politically acceptable. Thus I remain strongly opposed to all pseudo-systemic names (usually recognizable by the presence of appended numbers), and rank the rest only by relatively trivial criteria. The long-awaited nucleotide sequence of visna virus (Sonigo, et al., Cell 42:369, 1985) makes it still more apparent that the HTLV designation will be inconsistent with whatever taxonomy is finally arrived at. (Whether AIDS viruses are to be grouped as lentiviruses is an issue for another time.)
Regarding the issue of priority, there is ample precedent for altering the original nomenclature either for reasons of taxonomic accuracy (Pasturella is now Yersinia) or communication (genes originally called src are now mos, abl, ras, etc.). In the present instance, priority is so confused that it does not provide clear guidance anyway.
The issue of common usage is a more difficult one. The vast majority of AIDS virus papers published to date have, indeed used the designation HTLV-III. However, almost all of these were the product of only a few laboratories. Presumably as time goes on, a greater diversity of workers with different ideas as to the nomenclature will enter this area, and this problem may thus be somewhat less difficult than it might at present seem.
I hope these additional thoughts are of some value.
See you soon.
John M. Coffin, Ph.D.
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