The Baltimore Classification System


Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

The Baltimore Classification System (OpenStax Biology 2e)

The most commonly and currently used system of virus classification was first developed by Nobel Prize-winning biologist David Baltimore in the early 1970s. In addition to the differences in morphology and genetics mentioned above, the Baltimore classification scheme groups viruses according to how the mRNA is produced during the replicative cycle of the virus.

Group I viruses contain double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) as their genome. Their mRNA is produced by transcription in much the same way as with cellular DNA, using the enzymes of the host cell.

Group II viruses have single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) as their genome. They convert their single-stranded genomes into a dsDNA intermediate before transcription to mRNA can occur.

Group III viruses use dsRNA as their genome. The strands separate, and one of them is used as a template for the generation of mRNA using the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase encoded by the virus.

Group IV viruses have ssRNA as their genome with a positive polarity, which means that the genomic RNA can serve directly as mRNA. Intermediates of dsRNA, called replicative intermediates, are made in the process of copying the genomic RNA. Multiple, full-length RNA strands of negative polarity (complementary to the positive-stranded genomic RNA) are formed from these intermediates, which may then serve as templates for the production of RNA with positive polarity, including both full-length genomic RNA and shorter viral mRNAs.

Group V viruses contain ssRNA genomes with a negative polarity, meaning that their sequence is complementary to the mRNA. As with Group IV viruses, dsRNA intermediates are used to make copies of the genome and produce mRNA. In this case, the negative-stranded genome can be converted directly to mRNA. Additionally, full-length positive RNA strands are made to serve as templates for the production of the negative-stranded genome.

Group VI viruses have diploid (two copies) ssRNA genomes that must be converted, using the enzyme reverse transcriptase, to dsDNA; the dsDNA is then transported to the nucleus of the host cell and inserted into the host genome. Then, mRNA can be produced by transcription of the viral DNA that was integrated into the host genome.

Group VII viruses have partial dsDNA genomes and make ssRNA intermediates that act as mRNA, but are also converted back into dsDNA genomes by reverse transcriptase, necessary for genome replication.

The characteristics of each group in the Baltimore classification are summarized in the table above with examples of each group.

Related Topic: The Classification and Taxonomy of Viruses


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:

Related External Link:

Real Time Classification of Viruses in 12 Dimensions

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments