A band of renegade biologists is taking on a mammoth task that threatens to upset a status quo that has been unchallenged for almost 250 years. Put simply, they want to change the way scientists name every living organism on the planet.
These rebels say that our system of naming plants, animals, fungi and bacteria, famously introduced by Linnaeus in 1758, is frustrating efforts to understand the living world. They want to replace it with a more rational scheme they call the PhyloCode.
Critics have slammed their proposal, arguing that it will be a waste of time and effort that will hinder the urgent task of cataloguing the thousands or even millions of as yet undiscovered species before they go extinct. It could also compromise laws designed to protect biodiversity, placing endangered species at unnecessary risk.
Linnaeus developed the now familiar binomial system of nomenclature, in which the name of each species includes its genus. This identifies Homo sapiens, for example, as a member of the genus Homo.
That system has since been expanded, so that every identified living species is also placed in a hierarchy that stretches from phylum at the top, down through class, order, family and genus.