Microorganisms that cannot be grown in the laboratory can now be tentatively identified, by cloning and sequencing particular nucleic acid segments and then carrying out a comparative sequence analysis with an appropriate database. For bacteria, a few universally distributed genes and gene products have enabled comparative sequence analysis to be used for tentative identification and classification of uncultured bacteria. For viruses, there is no universally distributed viral gene or gene product. However, in a few cases, viruses that could not be propagated in the laboratory have been identified and classified. In these cases, either the entire viral genome sequence was determined or partial sequence information was supplemented with additional data. The Executive Committee of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) has reviewed the issue of identification and classification of viruses that have not been propagated. Under the ICTV system, formal review of any taxonomic proposal is carried out by the relevant ICTV Subcommittee or Study Group. The few examples of unpropagated viruses that have arisen thus far have been readily accommodated within existing viral taxonomy, with the international group of experts comprising each Subcommittee and Study Group determining the necessary and sufficient amount of information needed for classification of an unpropagated virus on a case-by-case basis.