Scientists rely on characteristics such as size, number of strands, shape and nucleic acid type to identify viruses, Washington State University explains. Other attributes used to identify these microorganisms include number of nucleic acid pieces and serological characteristics of the capsid protein or viral coat.
The identity of viruses can also be pinpointed by identifying the type of vector, Washington State University notes. The process of virus identification can take up to a year due to its difficulty and great expense. However, the information is necessary for determining provenance, pinpointing transmission mechanisms and structuring appropriate responses.
Once the nature of a virus becomes familiar, subsequent identification is much easier, Washington State University explains. Serology is a common method used to identify virus types. The test detects the presence of antibodies produced by the action of microorganisms in the body, reports The New York Times.
Known viruses can also be identified using the polymerase chain reaction test, notes Washington State University. The test pinpoints and amplifies recognizable parts of viral genetic material. These microorganisms can also be identified using a test known as VirScan, The New York Times reports. The assay uses a single blood drop to identify over 1,000 viral subtypes from more than 200 species.