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Monday, 24 July 2017 09:23

TWiV 451 Letters

Written by

Jane Flint writes:

With respect to schematic subway maps (TWiV 450), goes back to 1930’s in London.

Great discussion with Ben,


Sasha Trubetskoy writes:

Hi guys, thanks for sharing my Roman subway map.

I think the name you’re looking for is Harry Beck, designer of the London Underground map. He was actually an electrical engineer by training, and came up with the idea of representing a transit system as if it were an electrical circuit. In 1932 he published an early version of the now-ubiquitous map, which was immediately rejected by the London Underground’s Publicity Department. However, due to Beck’s persistence, a small print run was allowed and the map was released at a few select stations. Riders loved the simple design and demanded more–the Publicity Department conceded, and ordered 700,000 copies. Other cities would copy Beck’s idea, and the rest is history.

Johnye writes:

Learned Scientists.

A couple of months ago I discovered Jennife Khan’s TED talk on CRISPR gene drives. During the conversation around 00:23:23 brought to mind the activity of the a gene drive. A some point, when appropriate and pertinent, could the group discuss CRISPR gene drive as a tool for use in maybe vaccine production or other uses in research?

Jennifer Khan’s talk was most engaging.

Thanks from 27 C, fairly sunny, but officially partly cloudy, Boston.


Vr: check out TWiP 100 where we talked about a cas9 mediated driver gene in mosquitoes

Wiki on gene drive

Shallee writes:

Dear TWIVumvirate;

Humid and warm in New Hampshire. 26 deg C (78 F).

Thank you so much for TWIV 449 and 450 about RNAi. I am hard-pressed to keep up with all these ‘new-fangled’ RNAs. Dr. tenOever talks fast, but his parenthetical explanations were excellent. At one point, I wanted one of Rich Condit’s interruptions to slow down and recap, but I guess he was away!

I also wanted to thank Prof. Young for the letter about predatory publishing.  I received an invitation to write a book chapter this summer and I considered paying the page costs out of my faculty development funds or my pocket because it was about past research that is no longer grant-funded. One of the editors listed was someone I knew and respected and Wisconsin-Madison’s icon was on their webpage! Fortunately, I googled the book series before I accepted the invitation or started writing. I found a blogger that had blogged about it being a bit of a scam.

But, I still wasn’t sure that I made the correct choice.  Even if it was a minimal impact publication, I figured my promotion committee might not care. So, it was a great service for Prof. Young to write.

There is a list of predatory publishers no longer quite current, but amazingly extensive:

Thank you again for serving so many different constituencies from undergrads up to older scientists trying to keep up with new findings!

Shallee Page (a male FWIW)


Shallee T. Page

Assoc. Prof. of Chemistry

Franklin Pierce U.

Jess writes:

Hiya TWiV Team!

It’s a balmy 26C with 83% humidity and 16kmh winds at 7pm in Rhode Island.

I just wanted to express how excited I was to hear from Ben tenOever in episode 450.  While I have meant to read more of his publications and listen to past TWiV appearance(s?), I will admit I was only first introduced to his work via his ABSA International conference presentation last year in Grapevine, TX.  

His talk was one that I remember distinctly because it instilled so much excitement and curiosity in me regarding engineering suicidal viruses in the lab. On several occasions I scanned the audience to possibly connect with another soul who was as wowed as I was by the research so that we could silently agree that his work was “SO COOL.” Alas, I did not find my nerdy soul sister or brother in the moment but it did not take away from the experience.

No matter how much I learn about molecular biology, genetic engineering, virology etc. I’m constantly impressed by what we know and by what we don’t know!

It was also nice to have my worlds collide between Dr. tenOever as a TWiV fan and guest AND as a participant at the ABSA conference where biosafety experts from around the world gather annually.

Speaking of the ABSA conference, the year before I met Dr. Ian Crozier who is an MD and ebola survivor who gave an amazing and compassionate presentation regarding the West African outbreak and the subsequent medical community/volunteer response.  He’s a phenomenal speaker and would probably be a great guest for the show someday if you could get him.

In any event, kudos as always for presenting really cool science.

Take Care,


Steve writes:

Hi Vincent et al,

Just came across this case of a virus infecting a fungus, and enabling–for now–survival of European Chestnut, after‎ the fungus made its way to the US and wiped out most of the American Chestnuts, before finding its way to Europe and meeting the virus.

(If I’ve read it right, that is!)

Sounds very much a ‘TWiV story’.

All the best,




Beautiful blue sky morning getting under way here.

Average Jane writes:

Dear twiv scientists, professors & science communicators: you are, I suspect, the sort of experts to address a question like this.

Let’s say you are an average Jane, average education, who lives in a world of fake news.

You want to use critical thinking, especially on issues of science that directly affect you and your family.

What steps can you take to think critically when you see opposing views like the example below?

it could be any example, I just chose this for illustration.


Do We Dare To Eat Lectins?




Dr. Gundry: Lectins are the Root Cause of Inflammation and Disease


best regards,

average Jane

Johannes writes:

Dear Prof. Racaniello, dear hosts of TWiV,

I am  a relative regular listener and enjoy your discussions, may it be on virology or on more general science related topics.

Even the political ones.

Doing my PhD in molecular toxicology, I enjoy following you to broaden my scientific horizon.

Viruses are to me just complex nanoparticles, naturally occurring and sometimes of the kind that make you sick.

In the  episode ‘TWiV 449: The sound of non-silencing’ you discussed the problem of predatory journals,

Going through the  literature my B.Sc. intern used, I recognized that educating young scientist is an important thing to fight off predatory journals.

I spend quite a lot of time myself tracking down some of the cited literature of which I didn’t know the publisher.

While doing that, I realized it is not easy for a scientist in training to differentiate an open-source journal propagating open access for the sake of society from a predatory journal.

What I found on my search, and what I would like to share with you is a neat website:

It is a website providing a process called Think. Check. Submit., basically a check list containing useful tips and tricks helping to identify predatory journals.

Since you are all experienced members of the scientific community, I would like to hear your opinion on this website and also how to educate scientists in training to watch out for predatory journals.

I assume we as a scientific  community will never be capable of fully preventing this parasitic form of publishing.

But it is our duty to give the predatory journals a hard time to be successful.

Best regards,


P.s.: Please revive Urban Agriculture podcast! I enjoyed it a lot!

Johannes P. Schimming | PhD Student | Division of Toxicology | Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research (LACDR) | Leiden University

Steve writes:

Hi Vincent and team,

As an environmentalist/conservationist and lifetime science enthusiast, I find I am all too often faced with impossible choices like the one presented by this position. For most of my friends it is an easy choice: more and more research is showing that even creatures once thought to be non-sentient are showing surprising empathy and care for one another; monkeys are right at the top of the ‘almost human scale’; experimenting on them is torture without any doubt. I, certainly could not do it, even for mice (I noted that even Vincent seemed to balk on realising recently, that a mouse had been pinned down alive for four days whilst a cell of its leg was observed under a microscope.).

Do I sign: or not?


Steve Hawkins




Anthony writes:


Retraction Watch (RW): Rigor Mortis begins with the story of the 2012 Nature paper by C. Glenn Begley and Lee Ellis that is now famous for sounding the alarm about reproducibility in basic cancer research. But as you document, this is not a problem that began in 2012. When did scientists first start realizing there was a problem?


# # #

I’ve just started to read this with great interest.   

The book does have what might be considered an unflattering comment concerning Stuart Firestein.


Neil writes:

These Smart Girls Are Here To Debunk Anti-Vaxxer Nonsense

John writes:

Hi Vincent, Dickson, Alan, Rich, and Kathy,

I offer a listener pick of John Sever’s reddit “ask me anything” about the Rotary Club and polio eradication…

Thanks and regards,

John in Limerick

Monday, 17 July 2017 08:22

TWiV 450 Letters

Written by

Hitoshi writes:

The correct pronunciation for “Tentomushi” is like ten-toe mushi, not ten-two (10-2) mushi.

Paul writes:


An Excessive heat warning covers SE PA for tomorrow but presently 32C with 50% and 27m/h winds.

Thanks for episode 449.

One question and one comment.


The article discussed the method a mammalian virus used to suppress RNAi suppression.  It implied that RNAi could be common in mammals but routinely suppressed by mammalian viruses.  In any event it definitely identified a fairly straightforward RNAi suppression mechanism available to RNA viruses. So, why wouldn’t such a suppression mechanism be common in plant and invertebrate viruses that face RNAi as their primary barrier to success.


Ockham’s Razor originally referenced  primarily that “Entities [i.e. hypothetical entities] must not be multiplied beyond necessity”; this is different from a general bias in favor of simpler hypotheses. For example, the Razor would prefer a more complex hypothesis that hypothesized one enzyme to a simpler hypothesis that required two.

Great content.

Chris Sullivan writes:

Dear TWiV Hosts,

I am glad that you are dedicating back-to-back episodes to cover the exciting topic of RNA silencing and antiviral defense in vertebrates, something my lab thinks about. As you mentioned us in the previous episode TWIV#449 for possible comment, I thought I would briefly respond. This paper by Qiu et al., similar to recent work from Cullen and Ding labs, clearly demonstrates siRNAs matching viral sequence can arise in mammalian cells at least at some level in the right context. It also provides further genetic evidence consistent with an antiviral activity of RNAi. I think a picture is emerging in the field as a whole that there are at least some hallmarks of antiviral RNAi in mammals. The debate now moves from “do these hallmarks ever exist?” to “how meaningful are they?”.

Although the issue of whether RNAi is a relevant mammalian antiviral response still remains unresolved, I think all parties can agree that some hallmarks of antiviral RNAi exist but are more context dependent and limited in mammals. Whatever your favorite take on the larger issue of antiviral mammalian RNAi, I think most would also agree that RNAi is clearly different between mammals and invertebrates. Whether due to differences in the effectiveness of mammalian versus invertebrate VSRs, or more likely in my opinion, due to the differences between mammalian and invertebrate host biology, viral derived siRNAs are of lower abundance and likely less importance in mammalian cells infected with WT virus. Further, our own published and unpublished work, combined with work from numerous labs (including the Pfeffer, Cullen, and Sousa labs) shows that there are clashes between the effectors of the protein-based mammalian antiviral response (e.g., RNase L, PKR, IFN) and multiple components of the RNAi machinery. Thus, it remains unclear to me how much antiviral RNAi matters in mammals where the protein based response appears to have superseded and even counters components of RNAi.

It has been fun to watch the science unfold around this issue over the years. Yes, the dialog has been heated at times, but as long as this is kept to debate about the data and its interpretation, this is what makes science work. I commend all parties for the strife they have endured to stand up for their perspectives when, as too often happens, it would be easier and less risky to just ignore those papers you don’t agree with. Antiviral mammalian RNAi is an important issue, and I am glad the discussion continues. This is good for science and gets us closer to true understanding.

As always, thanks to all of you for what you do. Listening to you is one of the enjoyable parts of my job.


Monday, 10 July 2017 09:20

TWiV 449 Letters

Written by

Jens writes:

I may be wrong, but I think Occam’s Razor is not about preferring a simpler hypothesis over a more complex one in general (because Nature is complicated) but it is more about  skipping unnecessary steps in a thinking process that either way would yield the same result. For instance, if you ask the question “Who made the universe”, the answer could be “Nobody” or “God”. But if you chose “God” as an answer then the logical follow-up question would be “Who then made God?”. If your answer then is: “Nobody, God always existed”, then Occam’s razor would demand to skip that entire step because you could have answered “Nobody, the universe always existed”…




Anybody coming to ICV in Singapore?

Kaine writes:

My name is Kaine and I manage communications for the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. I came across your cool TWiV podcast on gender disparity at virology conferences that was based on a paper by one of our faculty members, Ann Palmenberg. It was a great listen! I wanted to also let you know about a recent press release that happened on the paper. I’m sending it because I saw that you linked to the actual paper on your site but could include this more general audience-friendly read if you wanted as well.

Do let me know if you have any questions.


Kaine Korzekwa

Marketing Specialist

Department of Biochemistry

University of Wisconsin–Madison

Stephen writes:

Another article about how science education is changing.

The Traditional Lecture Is Dead. I Would Know—I’m a Professor | WIRED

Paul writes:

Dear TWiVters

Another great episode last week – episode 447 and the un-impacted pachyderm.

One reader’s email on the wave of predatory journals that are currently being inflicted upon us, stimulated a robust discussion – I agreed with all of your comments. Like so many of my colleagues, I’m inundated every day by offers of guaranteed publication in a bright new journal, requesting my services as an editor on same or having my abstract accepted for oral presentation at a new, must attend meeting at which a bevy of Nobel laureates will be in attendance. An early morning task before I head off to work, is rapidly deleting them all without so much as a second thought.

But what you didn’t talk about was the worrying trend in predatory behaviour by well established and respected journals – perhaps a consequence of their traditional business model faltering as the new OMICS wave bears down.

One such journal scoped interest in a special edition on dengue with a colleague of mine – a highly respected leader in the field. My laboratory has worked in Dengue research for the last 30 years and we were asked to contribute, as were a number of leading groups around the world. We were tasked with providing relatively short, state-of-the art reviews on selected topics – up to 2,500 words. We all dutifully put in the effort to produce a collection of reviews that I believe provide a comprehensive, yet concise overview of the dengue viruses, the diseases they cause, diagnostics available and control strategies under development.

The privilege of putting in all of this effort? A bill to each of us, varying between US$5,500 and more than US$8,000 as “page charges”. The subsequent email traffic between the contributors and the journal became a little heated – with the journal ultimately agreeing to a 10% discount. Nevertheless, the dent to my budget was still significant!

A different sort of predatory behaviour, but this experience has burnt all of us and I’m writing this email as a cautionary tale to others who may be tempted by invitations from highly respected journals to contribute to their bottom line. Just be aware that there is likely to be a sting in the tail of that invitation.

Keep up the great work – it’s the middle of winter here in Australia and the family were out today in T-shirts strolling along the Brisbane River boardwalk in a “balmy” 22degC. Crazy!



PS The journal is The Journal of Infectious Diseases – you may not want to mention the name.

Professor Paul R Young | Head of School |

School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences (SCMB) | The University of Queensland | Brisbane | Queensland | Australia |

Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre (AID) | The University of Queensland | Brisbane | Queensland | Australia |

Matt writes:

Hello TWIV council,

My name is Matt and I’m writing from UW Madison. It feels like the first day of summer here in Wisconsin (whether that be the temperature in the 60s, the beautiful sunny sky, or the fact that finals are over, I’m not sure.) I have to express my jealousy that Vincent’s students get one week to study for exams. Like Kathy’s students, we have a single day. But I survive, and I finished my last final yesterday, which was virology, so I thought it was fitting to listen to the most recent episode of twiv. (By the way, my professors are excellent, and eagerly awaiting the arrival of ASV.)

I have actually been listening to TWIV since last summer. I want to study immunology in grad school. Unfortunately I had a hard time finding an immunology podcast, but instead stumbled onto TWIV. I started listening back then and would tune in every so often, but could not really understand what was going until I got part way through my virology course this semester. I have to echo a recent emailer’s sentiments about really enjoying when you sit down and talk with a panel of scientists. It’s really awesome to see how they got into science, and get such a wide ranging discussion about their various research projects. I especially enjoyed your discussion with the ZEST team here on campus.

I’ve learned a lot from your podcast, and I actually have a summer research abroad project involving HIV that I’m very excited about. I’ve always thought viruses were cool, but now I actually know something about how they work!

Keep up the great work, and if you know any immunologists that would be great podcasters as well, you should push this toward starting a TWII: This week in Immunology.

Thanks for all you do,


Anthony writes:

“Poets are always taking the weather so personally. They’re always sticking their emotions in things that have no emotions.”—J.D. Salinger

Posted on Facebook by PEN America

Josephine writes:

Hello Twivologists,

Greetings from southern Alberta where the weather is a glorious 27°C with clear blue skies and a light breeze. And yes, I know Dave the sheep shearer – I introduced him to the Twix podcasts! Truly, my favorite podcasts!

I wanted to let you and your listeners know about the 2017 Rabies in the Americas Conference which is being held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 22-26 October 2017. This is an annual conference and this year it is Canada’s honour to host the event. Attendees come, not just from the Americas, but from all over the world. There will be simultaneous translations of all presentations into English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. More information regarding the conference can be found at for those interested in attending and/or presenting.

Thank you for such a wonderful family of podcasts.  I no longer listen to them on my commute to work as I have retired from working in the rabies diagnostic lab,  but now y’all accompany me on my daily walks.


Josephine Kush

Anthony writes:

It appears that all that needs to be done is to claim that the research will lead to a better understanding of Autism or Alzheimer’s.

This study actually is very important, but I need to wonder about the relevance to Autism.  My understanding is that mouse vocalizations are calls (instinctual), not language.  

The invoking of a key to a cure for Autism or Alzheimer’s is all but de rigueur in animal studies — the more baseless the better.

Way back in the mid-’70s, I heard Juan Cortes (a Psychology professor at Georgetown University) say that the funds used in most studies claiming to help children with cognitive impairment would be better spent by taking the kids out for ice cream.


Jay writes:

Hello everybody, just writing to let you all know how much I enjoy your podcast and to say thank you. I look forward to each new episode as they are very entertaining and full of in-depth leading edge science discussion.

My background is in aerospace engineering so I have to work hard to understand the subject matter at times, but I thoroughly enjoy doing my homework on terms and concepts I don’t understand.  You do an excellent job in combining high level information with molecular level details, and your recent addition of overview and summary discussions are a real bonus for me.

I discovered your TWIV podcast in a roundabout kind of way as historically I have shied away from microbiology and virology. A year and a half ago I was presented the opportunity to enroll in a gene therapy clinical trial for hemophilia B, and in researching the trial I Google searched on Dr. Katherine High who was the senior author of the study.    Vincent knows where this is going…

I found a very informative video interview with Dr. High, done by none other than Vincent Racaniello! This led me quickly to Vincent’s online Virology lectures which I have watched and continue to rewatch. From there it was a short jump to becoming an avid TWIV listener, and since then TWIM and TWIP too!

As for the gene therapy trial, with my confidence bolstered by listening to the very impressive Dr. High and my newfound understanding of gene therapy, I joined the trial. Since then, the AAV vectors have done their job, and I am now a happy host to a bunch of Padua mutant FIX genes. My hepatocytes have been diligently producing hyperactive factor IX protein for over a year now and without even one traumatic bleed in that time, I consider myself functionally cured (for now, and hopefully for years to come).

I distinctly remember watching a scene from a just-released Star Trek movie back in 1986 (the dark dark dark days for hemophilia) and being put off by Dr. McCoy giving a pill to a hospital patient, instantly curing her of kidney failure – how unbelievable I thought, and how I wished that could happen to me.

Well, thirty years later, after a one half hour intravenous injection of a clear liquid – it did.

The medical science you all do is very real, and has a very real effect on real people. For your dedication and perseverance I thank you and your many listeners.

Bye for now, and I look forward to many future episodes of This Week in Virology, the kind that make you sick – or in my case the kind that make you better!


Cambridge, Ontario

Currently 17 degrees Celsius with CAVOK skies – sunny and just a few fair weather cumulus floating by.

Neva writes:

Super TWIVs,

A wonderful example of science communication.

MIchael Summers, the author of Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets, and the New Search for Life Beyond Our Solar System, is interviewed by Father Robert Ballecer on the TWIT.TV network program Triangulation.

Dr Summers entertainingly shares his delight in his field and is careful to say what is known and what is speculation.

A fun interview and …..SPACE! PLANETS!

Another Pick:    A virus coloring book contest.

“At the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) we know that, like viruses, creativity is contagious. To help spread the fun, we have designed our very own colouring book! Illustrated and written by CVR scientists, we hope this book gives you a bit of welcome relief from the daily stresses of life, while inspiring you with interesting facts about viruses and the incredible research underway at our centre in Glasgow.

Created with the support of the Medical Research Council, we hope you enjoy learning about the tiny pathogens that never cease to amaze us.

To mark the MRC Festival of Medical Research (17 – 25th June), we are running a competition to allow 10 people to win a FREE hard copy of the book!”

Keep it coming with your own team entertaining science communication.

Best to you,

Neva from Buda

Monday, 26 June 2017 09:06

TWiV 447 Letters

Written by

Kathy writes:

Another paper demonstrating that having females as role models can aid in retention is this one from 2017:

Female peer mentors early in college increase women’s positive academic experiences and retention in engineering.

I forgot to mention that you can apply for an extension to the 10-year span that defines when you are an NIH “Early stage investigator”. The woman who told me about her experience (she still has no R01 and has New Investigator status but not ESI) did apply for an extension because she had two maternity leaves in the 10 years following when she got her Ph.D.  NIH gave her a 6 month extension on the 10 years. Bleah.

Wink writes:

I am glad you mentioned that most deaths were due to bacterial pneumonia in 1918-9. Maybe we should be asking what was special about Staphylococcus aureus at that time.

Wink Weinberg

Kasey writes:


I’m a relatively recent regular listener (mostly because I never used to listen to podcasts in general very regularly) and I was listening to latest episode (TWiV 446) where you discussed the gender parity trends at virology conferences. I thought it might have inspired you to look back at TWiV guests and authors of papers discussed on the podcast to see what the gender parity trends on TWiV have been, but since I didn’t hear you mention them, I’m assuming you don’t have a similar spreadsheet of your own. I think it would be interesting if someone could compile that data (although I’m not volunteering). As far as gender parity of hosts, it’s not so great (which had occurred to me before while listening). I tried to reason that the sample size is small and the way hosts were picked was probably based on previous personal relationships and not simply looking for talented virology professionals. But it would make me more comfortable if Kathy wasn’t the only female host. I’m wondering if Kathy has any thoughts on the subject.


P.S. It’s currently 29˚C here in Georgia with a high for the day of 32˚C.

P.P.S. Vincent, I thought you’d like to know that you inspired me to change the units of my weather app to ˚C so I could become more familiar with the Celsius scale.

Kasey Karen, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Biology

Biological & Environmental Sciences Department

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061

Jens writes:

Thanks, guys, for reading our very lengthy explanatory letter about PpNSRV-1 on TWiV 443! It was indeed all in good fun and as you pointed out, the best part about TWiV is that things can be discussed at length, and multiple times, in a civil manner (much in opposition to peer review, which is often ridiculously hostile). I learn new things from you every week and am very happy that every now and then I can contribute something that you don’t know Best,


Sent to TWiP, but a must read here:

John in Limerick writes:

P.S. I was listening to the team on TWiV discussing a paper a few episodes ago and  Vincent mentioned that two of the authors had ascaris. My first thought that flashed into my head was “that’s an odd thing to say but albendazole or ivermectin should clear it up”. Of course, what Vincent actually said was that the authors had asterisks. They were joint first authors. I’ve been infected by Twip.

Shaun writes:

Hello Dr. Racaniello,

I’m a recent fan of the TWiV podcast, I especially appreciated your last cast #438: “Drs. TWiV go to Washington”.  I’m a BS level biologist who chose industry over further academics, mostly because I was a former US Army medic/nurse (12 years) that fell in love with pathophysiology and went back to school to study biology and got a late start on my undergraduate career.  Since then I’ve been working in the marketing and sales of molecular diagnostics & life science reagents.  Please forgive the backstory, but getting back to my appreciation of cast #438, what really resonated for me is the conversation regarding scientific communication.  Specifically the communication to both  professionals and lay people alike.  Additionally, the topic of how the internet has changed communication both for better and worse.  As a life science marketer I am constantly thinking about these topics and looking for new ways to illustrate the scientific utility of our innovative products and services across multiple generations of scientists who consume scientific communication differently.  It was a good podcast to listen to during my 1.5 hr. commute and thank you for representing Science at the March.

I currently work for Promega Corporation, I’m not sure how familiar you are with our unique organization.  We are one of the last privately held, global life science companies.  We have offices/branches in 16 countries and we are truly unique because we are privately owned and empowered by our founder and still CEO/Chairman to be primarily scientifically focused.  Here is a good article if you are interested in learning more about our founder/CEO/Chairman Bill Linton, “Capitalist with a Soul”.  Our commercial efforts are more tailored to support the scientific discussion, rather than bang customers over the head with our products and services.  I noticed in listening to your podcast that you have sponsors, again this goes back to something that is in line with our commercial ethos, support the scientific discussion.  Do you have a sponsorship information packet you could send me?

As I’m sure you are aware, ASV is being held in Madison, WI in a few months.  Madison is the world headquarters for Promega Corporation and if you happen to be attending and broadcasting TWiV from ASV this year I’m wondering if we could be a sponsor?  Additionally, we have quite a few technologies that are unique to support virologists, everything from simple benchtop automation to purify viral DNA to viral tagging using our proprietary luciferase technologies for a variety real-time imaging of infection/transmission.  Our R&D scientists might be a good panel member on a future episode.

Every week we have an R&D meeting where all of the company comes together to discuss a scientific topic for a few hours.  Sometimes we bring in an outside speaker, sometimes it’s a mixed speaker presentation and open discussion forum.  From my perspective, it would be really cool if you’d be open to discussing the possibility of broadcasting from the Promega Campus.  Let me know if you’d like to further investigate this idea, it could have nothing to do with Promega.  In fact last month we hosted a zika discussion group (David O’Conner et. al.), we love the opportunity to be supporting scientific discourse.

Apologies for being long winded, I’m a fan.  Please send me sponsorship information and consider us for ASV.


Shaun Peterson

Global Marketing Manager

Molecular Diagnostics | Promega Corporation

Anthony writes:

TWiX Listening post

Here’s my new computer setup for  The system is a Raspberry Pi (that little box under the screen) — as suggested a month or so ago by Alan Dove.

1. raspberry setup profvrr wall 300x225

2. raspberry setup microbetv sy 1

The display was a gift, but I had to pay for the computer myself.  Price of the computer?  Around $60.  The screen?  Maybe $700.  And what’s the information worth?  PRICELESS!

The cat’s name is Sy.

Christopher writes:

Hey Twivsters, I have a bit of follow up for the episode with Tim.

I read Tim’s article and I listened to your interview.

I found the article’s tone even and measured and I had very little to disagree with. However, when he spoke on Twiv I noticed more frustration and cynicism.

Rather than quibble about arguments and assertions, I’d like to make a statement:

Scientists, explaining science is important, but it’s not enough. The good thing is you are not alone. Science helps us shape the understanding of our objective reality. But it is up to all of us, to the scientists, to the science communicators, to the teachers, to the tinkerers, to the enthusiasts, to the chronically curious, to help shape the opinions and beliefs of the public and those surrounding us. Plant the seed of curiosity in our children. Show people our perspectives are limited, but that’s okay. Help people understand why we need science through impassioned, lively discussions. Optimism is desperately needed in our political climate. Be the ones to provide it. We don’t have one solution to effect change, we have many, and we need them all. We need to get there first. We need to be persuasive. We need to have optimism. We need to spark curiosity. There is more to know out there. The next step in technological advancement, the next treatment for a debilitating illness, the solution for the crying child in the third world country who isn’t getting enough food. It is out there and the scientific process can and will help us find it. In the words of Carl Sagan, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

Scientists, explaining science is not enough.

But you’re not alone.

Daniel writes:

Greetings from Norway!

Have you ever been here? Here up in the freezing north we have no viruses, but I still think you would find something to do here. I listen to your podcasts as much as I can. Really do find the bunch of you funny and engaging. I am studying biology at the University of Oslo and I want to work in virology or entomology or something. I also want to win your book! Much love Daniel

If I lost the book competition I retract everything I wrote.

Robert writes:

Hi twiv,

I would like to be able to play twiv through my alexa is there a way currently?

If not check out the link about developing such a skill. It appears fairly straightforward as long as the rss feed audio fits the amazon format. Plus it is free to develop and publish echo skills.



Chris writes:

Greetings TWiV professors,

We have been having our usual mercurial spring weather in central Ohio: it has been anywhere between freezing and 30°C, but without too much severe weather. I thought to write this e-mail after listening to a recent episode and noticing yet again that the theme music has changed. I’ve got two things I want to discuss, so I’ll go in increasing order.

First, I like the musical content of the new intro music better than the old music and it’s finally stopped being a bit jarring to hear it at the start of the episodes because I am still expecting the old intro. On this most recent episode, I mentally reminded myself that the new intro music was just about to play and I was not startled by the different music. Hopefully after a few more episodes I’ll finally stop having to be conscious that I should expect the new music and the new music will simply become the normal TWiV music.

Second, I am about ⅔ of the way through reading Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters (I’m currently in the middle of the chapter on Theobald Smith) and am finding it quite enjoyable. De Kruif is very good at emphasizing the individual personalities of the scientists he covers and how their collaborations and grudges shaped the route of microbe hunting. The other thing that stuck with me is that most of the scientists he covered in the book were either still alive or had only passed away within the past 40 years before the book was published. Do you all have any book recommendations for a similar but more modern book that would cover more recent scientists?

As much as I have enjoyed reading this book while waiting for the computers to behave at work, I cannot recommend this book without the major asterisk that it contains liberal use of what may most politely/euphemistically be described as “1926 aphorisms” and those may be a strong turn-off to a potential reader. On a more positive note regarding the language de Kruif uses, the older spelling and grammar the book uses occasionally awakens some linguistic interest, like how they hyphenated free-lance, which highlights the mercenary nature of freelance work much better than the unhyphenated version of the word does.

Valerie writes:

Hi guys,

First of all, thanks to all for the great podcast – not just fascinating and informative, but also highly entertaining!

Listening to some of the recent TWiV material got me very interested in marine viruses and the vast range of hosts they infect, as well as their role in nutrient cycling.

So I wondered if you could, perhaps, expand a little on this topic in one of the upcoming episodes. I’d absolutely love to hear more about the current hot topics and challenges in marine virology.

Also, I should add that I am what in the UK is called ‘a mature student’ – I’m 29 and have just started my biosciences degree after years of independent study, and podcasts like TWiV are fantastic for expanding my horizons and providing a little direction for my future academic career. Though I must say I’ve always gravitated towards virology anyways!

All the best,


P.S. I’d tell you about the weather in England, but it’s just too depressing.

Ben writes:

Dear Vincent and the Gang of TWiV,

Thought you’d be pleased to know that I found your TWiV 395 episode (“The cancer thief”) so compelling that I invited your guest Steve Russell to Johns Hopkins for a seminar and to meet with faculty and students. He gave an absolutely inspiring talk at our weekly “Molecular Pathology” lecture series, which I have to say was the best attended session I’ve ever seen. Prior to hearing the podcast, I knew very little of oncolytic virotherapy and likely would not have crossed paths with Steve otherwise. So we at Hopkins owe you all a debt of gratitude for doing what you do – spreading contagious virology. Please keep up your excellent work!

3. SteveRussell e1498265693860 300x225

– Ben

Benjamin Larman, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Immunopathology

Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Brandon writes:

Dear TWiV consortium,

            First, please forgive my formatting, for I am not much of a letter writer. Second, my name is Brandon from Denver Colorado, a long-time listener who has only emailed once. Even that was a halfhearted attempt to win one of your contests. As I write, it is 9:30pm and 49 Celsius after a weekend that saw about six inches of snow.

            I write for no particular reason; a large part of it is the admiration I have for you all, part of it is that I have eked out just enough time to put together an email for you all which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. My favorite episodes are TWiV 373 with Dr. Youngner and TWiV 395, The Cancer Thief, I have listened to those episodes many times over, they have stopped me from remaining current. As much as I love the usual gang, your interviews with other distinguished virologists tend to be especially riveting.

            Now a little about myself (the least interesting part, I assure you). I am a high school dropout from a family of high school dropouts that eventually realized school is cool. I went back and finished my high school diploma and I am now finishing my final semester as an undergrad, earning a degree in Biology with a minor in chemistry. I am proud to say I will be going to the University of Florida to pursue a master’s degree in microbiology this upcoming fall. I would like to thank the Good Doctors of TWiV for keeping me motivated. Through your constant humor (or “humor” from Dickson), stimulating discussions and continued desire to learn. Thank you all for the work that you do, and keep up the excellence in science communication.

Tiredly yours, Brandon


P.S. I do find Dickson quite funny and appreciated his attempt at the OVER 9000 meme. I often find myself rolling my eyes with a smile on my face after one of his puns.

P.P.S I’m glad Rich is back. Though I may not recognize his face, would be able to pick out that voice anywhere.

Anthony writes:

Dr, Osterholm discussing his new book on Outbreak News Today

I did have to wonder about his description of the pressing concern for bioterrorism enabled through genetic information.

Osterholm’s mention of crop dusters might be something not to discount.  There were reports of Atta’s looking at crop dusters:

Alan Dove has outlined on TWiV the reasons why bioterrorism is unlikely to become a weapon in the arsenal of terrorists. In terms of attacking human populations, the analysis is certainly valid. I question whether that’s true for the sabotage of crops or factory farms.

Kedar writes:

Hi Prof Racaniello and team!

I have been listening to TWiV for a long time now and have always wanted to thank you all for the amazing work that you all have been doing – dissecting science for the curious folks like I.

I was a little under-confident to write in, but today, I have somehow gathered courage to tell you all that I am extremely grateful to the TWiV team. I have learnt a lot! Thank you!

Something about myself:

I am a veterinarian from India and currently working at National University of Singapore (NUS) as a research associate.

I initially joined NUS as a PhD student to work on passive immunotherapy against influenza virus (and yes, I love the plaque assay). Everything did not go well there and I had to change my project and take up job as RA and am now pursuing my PhD (part-time) on ‘animal models of urology related bacterial infections’.

I must admit, TWiV has kept me hooked on to virology. All the more reason for me to listen to you all!

So, many thanks to you all again!

I am not sure if you all have spoken on TWiV before. May I ask, what is your opinion on the debate of predatory journals and the Beall’s list being taken down?

Here is a recent Nature news item on the topic:

Warm regards,


PS: It is hot and very humid in Singapore as I type and I am sure it will be the same whenever you all read this!

Chaim writes:

We took a bike tour of Milan last week, and when I saw this new condo building (called “bosco verticale”) I thought of Professor Despommier. The tour guide tried to shock us by explaining that the units run around $1.1M for 1000 or square feet, but after a decade in New York and DC, that seems pretty reasonable to me!

4. IMG 20170518 104224

Edward writes:

Hello Glorious Twiverati-

My name is Ed Grow, a postdoc studying fertility and embryogenesis at the University of Utah.

It’s 75F/24C in Salt Lake City and balmy—although we had snow last week, which melted in a day.

I’m writing in regards to fabulous episode 441, in which you discussed the construction of consomic mice bearing different Y chromosomes on a Black 6 background.

At 38:41, Rich mentions that during consomic generation, you get “the whole Y chromosome of the mouse you started with…[there’s] not an opportunity to get a hybrid Y chromosome”.

Which is mostly true, but at this point, please have Kathy sing “pedant, pedant”.

The Y chromosome has a small portion called the pseudoautosomal region (PAR) which is both homologous and orthologous to the PAR of the X chromosome. This region, while only ~5% of the length of the Y chromosome, is responsible for pairing with the X and recombining with the X. Although small, the PAR is extremely important. In fact, this X/Y recombination at the PAR is required to avoid non-disjunction—which can lead to devastating sex chromosome aneuploidies often resulting in subfertility or infertility.

The majority of the Y chromosome is referred to as the male-specific Y (MSY), and this region doesn’t normally recombine with the X. Thus, the MSY should be inherited directly from father to son, while the PAR of the Y can recombine with the X.

Put another way, the product of one normal male meiosis produces 4 haploid cells, each containing one sex chromosome: a non-recombinant X, a non-recombinant Y, a recombinant X, or a recombinant Y. In 50% of the male F1s, you should have a solely non-recombinant Y chromosome—which can likely be followed by marker analysis to ensure that the Y chromosome in its entirety (both the PAR and the MSY) is inherited.

I started listening to TWIV 18 months ago, and have progressed retrograde through TWIV, TWEVO, TWIM, and TWIP. I’m trained in the endogenous retrovirus field, but I have learned so much from you, and cannot imagine life without your podcast empire. There is no way to thank you as much as you deserve (unless I win the lottery), so I’ll leave it at that.


If I may have a listener pick of the week? I feel like I’m cheating on my one true love to suggest another podcast, but I recently ran across the BBC’s “In our time” podcast of science/history. The episode “Lysenkoism” ( detailing the scientific fraud of disgraced agriculturalist Trofim Lysenko, which led to the death of millions of Soviets, is a prescient reminder of the consequences when the State corrupts the scientific endeavor for political purposes. SAD!

Hannah writes:

Hello TWiV Friends!

I just wanted to write a quick note on something Kathy alluded to in TWiV 442, about 78 minutes in. She was talking about a graph noting the difference in agreement between liberals and conservatives when science is presented as “intelligence” versus “curiosity”.

Between my work life and my personal life, I interact regularly with people from both political parties. I have found that the most effective way to talk to anyone about science is to remove the politics from it. I know you point out on TWiV that science is inherently a political issue, but if you present it as such, people will make assumptions based on their own views and subsequently tune out anything you have to say that doesn’t match those views. However, if you talk about science with all of the passion you feel for it, people tend to listen because they want to understand your excitement. Then the conversation that could have gone “Climate change is real because this researchers published a paper on it” and ended in a fight becomes “Hey, I read this really interesting article/paper the other day, where X project had Y result. Isn’t it odd that so much changed in a short time?” and ends in a discussion. This now taps into the “scientific curiosity” in the graph Kathy mentioned.

Keep up the excitement about science!


P.S. I’m in Boulder, Colorado, where we finally have a couple of days without thunderstorms and it’s currently sunny and 23C. Knowing the springtime weather in Colorado, I’m sure the storms will be back tomorrow afternoon!

Anthony writes:

I’ve not read the complete article, but I hope that feasibility is what’s really meant and not possibility.



# # #

In Vivo Excision of HIV-1 Provirus by saCas9 and Multiplex Single-Guide RNAs in Animal Models

Alex writes:

Chères TWIVeurs (et TWIVeuse),

I am an avid listener and new PI at the NIH and I wanted to share with you a recent paper of ours published in the EMBO Journal, which was conducted during my postdoctoral fellowship at Institut Pasteur in France (I am co-first author). I think you’ll find it interesting considering the coverage you’ve dedicated to Zika virus. In this paper, we reveal a Zika virus-induced cytopathic effect in human cell lines and primary cells that is non-canonical and visually striking. Using time-lapse video microscopy, we followed the fate of ZIKV-infected cells to show that viral translocation into the ER causes massive vacuolization and an implosive cell death. This phenotype became apparent when we silenced an important player in the cell-intrinsic innate immune response, IFITM3. Deciphering the cellular signaling events that led to this bizarre type of cell death showed a crucial involvement of PI3 kinase activity and indicated that what we were observing is paraptosis, a poorly understood cell pathway that has never been associated with a human virus infection. These results may be crucial to our understanding of how infected cells, such as neurons, die in infected individuals. Furthermore, the role of the innate immune response in blocking these destructive events may explain why the majority of ZIKV infections are resolved by the host without major complications.

I’ve attached the PDFs for you and here is the URL link, where you can also find our movies:

Best regards,


Alex Compton, Ph.D.

Head, Antiviral Immunity and Resistance Section

HIV Dynamics and Replication Program

National Cancer Institute (NIH/NCI)

Dennis writes:

Hi Docs,

In TWIV 438 you had a wonderful discussion about teaching and explaining science.  Dickson brought up the “Mr. Wizard” show as a fine vehicle for teaching.  I’d like to point folks to as an increasingly powerful communication tool for science. is now the sixth most visited site on the internet.  There are many subreddits where science teaching and learning are happening.  Just as one example of a site where science is often learned, there’s a page called, “Explain it like I’m five (years old)”.  It’s amazing how often an interesting question is asked and how often there are “gold winning answers” where someone donated $3 to reddit in the name of the answerer.  There are many other “subreddits” such as AskPhysics, Space, SpaceX, chemistry and microbiology where questions can be asked and answered.  Although there are often subthreads that are mainly punny or which reference something cultural or comic, there is a huge amount of learning going on.  Scientists for example are holding “ask me anything” sessions in r/IAMA or within other subreddits wherein they can answer many good questions at one sitting.

As a surprising learning example, in ten seconds I learned how to “un-impact an elephant”.  When I went to reddit to check the names of some of the subreddits, the first video on the front page (thousands of people upvoted this) was of a park worker literally pulling a “rope” of chewed grass out of an elephant’s back end.  The rope was at least ten feet long.  Within ten seconds one learned that elephants can get impacted, educated people can help them out and that the person doing it was not freaked out by the knowledge of from which end it was coming.  There are much more technical and learned subjects being discussed For example of complex chemical reactions and even links to new tools for writing and displaying them.  

It’s my hope that indeed all generations are getting exposed to more and more bits, bytes and gigabytes of science.



May writes:

Hello Vincent and the TWiV masters,

I’m a faithful TWiV listener. Love the show. Listened to all the episodes.

I saw this cool paper in the Science Magazine from the Feng Zhang lab at MIT.

You guys should talk about it on the show.

Here is the paper:

Here is the commentary:

and the video from the Broad:

The weather here is cloudy and windy. 22C. More rain to come.

Take care.


Rockville, MD

Pete writes:

Hello Drs,

Always risky to email while listening to an episode, but I don’t want to forget this question: If it were feasible to remove, say, 1 – 5% of the ERV base pairs from a sexually reproducing organism:

  1. Would you expect that organism to be able to reproduce with an unmodified partner?
  2. What would be the effect on the organism? (Like, would replication be more efficient? Less error-prone?)
  3. Is anyone attempting the experiment?

The discussion reminded me of Greg Bear’s novel, Darwin’s Radio. I think HERVs could be the basis of many novels, hopefully including some more technically accurate than Bear’s 1999 work.

I listen to every episode of TWIV, TWIP and TWIM. I am not a scientist; I am an engineer, but I love the shows.

Be nice to Dickson, but not too nice – we don’t want him to think you don’t care Aloha,


Bill writes:

Dear TWIV team,

Having listened to TWIV for a number of years now, I have absorbed a lot of virology in a scattershot manner. I finally decided to go hunt down the Virology 101 sessions on your web page, and have found them fascinating.

They are called out in the web page, but I ended up downloading them as mp3-s, which mean my iPhone music app presented them. It is not clear how to download them as simple sequential podcasts.  The music app works OK for songs, but a virology lecture isn’t a song.  I want to be able to skip around easily, resume where I left off, and I certainly don’t want them shuffled.

I suggest that you duplicate the Virology 101 portions of previous TWIVs into a separate podcast stream.  I don’t imagine that this would take much work, and it would be much easier than collecting various shows.  You might even find a new sponsor who would be interested in this sub-series with a longer shelf-life and stream of novices. It would be easier to update dated lectures, if needed.

In the meantime, be nice to Dickson, the parasitologist formerly known as Dick.  He reminds me of the favored uncle who always has “got your nose” and is pulling quarters out of your ear.


Science guy on a farm in Flemington, NJ

Justin writes:

Dear TWIV hosts,

I am a postdoc at Texas A&M University in the Center for Phage Technology.

I am a long time listener and avid fan of the show. Recently, people have complained about political topics being discussed on the podcast too often. I wanted to offer my humble opinion on the matter. I like hearing these issues discussed, and I feel like I benefit from your perspectives. I don’t think I am alone in my opinion either. This stuff is important, and needs to be talked about.

I do understand the counter argument though. Sometimes it is nice to stop thinking about politics and all the ugly things in the news, and just think about something pure and beautiful… like capsid structures, nucleic acid replication, viral evolution, and so on.

This is just an idea, but I think it would be really cool if you could do more episodes centered specifically on science policy. That way you could talk about policy issues without feeling encumbered, and the people who find that stuff boring could just skip those episodes entirely. I would love to hear people from the TWiX gang chat with people from the Department of Agriculture, EPA, FDA, State Department, or maybe even a congressman on the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

If any of you know of a good science policy podcast, or any other reliable source of information on the subject already in existence, let me know.

The topic of what other podcasts your listeners listen to has come up a few times. I listen to Hard Core History, Our Fake History, History on Fire, Mundo de los Microbios (a podcast about microbes in Spanish), Common Sense, Philosophy Bites, The Eastern Border, Inward Empire, all the TWiX podcasts, and Urban Agriculture.

I am running a few episodes behind at the moment, but if there happens to be a book contest I’d like to be included in the email count.

The weather is quite nice in College Station, at least for the time being. We are at a sunny 30°C, with a light breeze.



Amanda writes:

Greetings Tw’all,

I am a long-time listener of the TWiX series, and a sometimes writer. I am currently doing a Clinical Microbiology fellowship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada where it is dreary and 9 degrees Celsius. Previously I did a 2 year stint in Goroka, Papua New Guinea as head of Virology at their Institute of Medical Research – which brings me to why I am writing. I did a lot of teaching stuff there, with not a lot of resources. When Dickson et. al. released the 6th Edition of Parasitic diseases for free, I was able to download the PDF and send to my colleagues by USB, so thank you for that! While there, I wanted to share your coursera virology course with my staff as they do not have any specialized virology courses there, but the best internet connection in Goroka is shoddy 2G and quite expensive. If I can get an appropriately sized USB to you, would you be willing to load the lectures onto it for me so I could send to my PNG friends?

I know a lot of people say they fall asleep to TWiV, but I am the opposite, I use TWiV to stay awake on my morning commute!

As always, thanks for all you do for science communication and education.


Amanda Lang, PhD

Clinical Microbiology Fellow

Nova Scotia Health Authority

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


Director of Virology

Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory,

Ministry of Health, Government of Saskatchewan

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

Monday, 19 June 2017 08:40

TWiV 446 Letters

Written by

Junio writes:

Re: coccinellae in Japanese

These colorful round small beetles are collectively called Tentou-Mushi in Japanese. “Mushi” is a generic term for insects. “Tentou” is the Sun-God (you can call the Sun “O-Tentou-Sama”).

Wikipedia says they fly towards the Sun hence that name. The most common ones are called Nanahoshi Tentou (Seven-star Sun-God).

There is a less commonly used alternative spelling of the name of the bug, which is Beni-Musume 紅娘. It literally means Red Girl, so in that sense, in Japanese they are also deemed female just like “Lady Bug”implies female, but not many people know that spelling.

Akira Ono writes:

Japanese: Lady beetles

Google translation is helplessly incompetent in this.

It is called “tentou-mushi”. “tentou” means the sun, sun-god, or the path of the sun, and “mushi” means “bug”. So, “sun-bug” or sungod bug would be better translation. These insects are thought to fly towards the sun, hence the name.


Anthony writes:

I found interesting the need for an inverter.  How many devices are not available for 12V?  In addition to space, machines that require 110 will be difficult to use in a remote location on Earth.

It was good to learn that much of a standard lab can be used immediately in space, perhaps with just perhaps just minor adjustments in technique.  Even so, can better tools be designed?  Are comments on experience and limitations encountered being collected and published for manufacturers to review and incorporate in future designs for space applications?

Thank you on a particularly great TWiV episode.  Even though I basically stay put on a side street in Jersey City, through TWiX I learn about topics in a range of the biological sciences, hear Nobel laureates and now find out about living in space from someone who was there.

Let’s imagine BSL-10 as a facility in deep space where nothing but data ever leaves.  What would the space station then be?  BSL-7?

Wytamma writes:

Hi Y’all,

I’m writing this to you on the plane to Hungary, the weather on arrival should be clear skies and 28°C. Two other PhD students and I from James Cook University Australia are on our way to attend back-to-back conferences in Budapest. The international symposium on viruses of lower vertebrates and the international symposium on ranavirus are running from 4th-10th of July. Can you please give a shoutout to all the veterinary and wildlife virologists in Budapest this week and remember it’s not only men and mice that get viruses!

Cheers from a jet lagged student,


Aadra writes:

Dear TwiV: I’m a long-time listener of TwiV, and now, TwiM.

I just read this article in Science, and I am absolutely heartbroken.

There are so many infectious diseases rampant in Nigeria: malaria, measles, polio. Is there any way the TwiV listener community could help out? I don’t really have a solidified suggestion or an idea. I am writing to you in a moment of sadness and wondering if there’s any way, as virologists/microbiologists, we could all help out this humanitarian crisis…it’s one of so many right now in the world.

Anthony writes:

A historical review. Just an excerpt is below



# # #

A passage in Philip Roth’s novel Nemesis describes the horror of catching polio in the US town of Newark in 1944, when outbreaks of the disease were common and each summer was spent in fear of infection.

“Finally the cataclysm began – the monstrous headache, the enfeebling exhaustion, the severe nausea, the raging fever, the unbearable muscle ache, followed in another forty-eight hours by the paralysis,” it says.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, has existed for millennia. There is ancient Egyptian art which depicts a victim of the disease with a frail, deformed limb, using a staff for support.

Now the disease is only endemic in three countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, and there were just 37 cases last year. Optimistic health workers and organisations such as Rotary International say 2017 could be the year in which the world sees the last case of polio.

Serious challenges, including violent attacks on vaccinators by Islamists and poor routine immunisation coverage, remain.

But one day taking children to the doctor for polio vaccination drops may be a distant memory, and the long list of famous Polio survivors including Francis Ford Coppola, David Starkey and Mary Berry will fade into history.

Anthony writes:

“Linus Pauling is the only person to have been awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes – the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize.”

Gary writes:

Hello twivers,

I was listening to an old episode today and heard a letter talking about Amizon and how you could not find information about it. I am talking about episode 59 and an outbreak of swine flu in the Ukraine. I decided to see if I could find any information about the medication and I found it. I am curious what you guys think about this drug. Here is the link: I hope you will let us all know what you think.


MaryClare writes:

Hello Vincent and colleagues-

I’m writing to thank you for making such worthy podcasts. I subscribe to all the TWix shows, and I’ve come to expect at least one personal lightbulb moment every week while listening. The papers are always interesting, and the conversations between the hosts are good fun. I’ve learned an enormous amount from your podcasts, and it’s time I thanked you for the exceptional work.

Cheers to the whole team!

MaryClare Rollins

Montana State University

Stephanie writes:


I am not a scientist, but I have the flu and stumbled on your March 31st podcast. I was wondering why I am so sore?  I literally have physical pain up and down my spine like I have been hit by a car.

Please help me understand how a virus can cause physical pain?



Harlan writes:

Dear TWiV,

Thank you kindly for your informative and engaging discussions on virology. As an undergraduate in clinical laboratory science, I’m eager for the sorts of discussions you provide across the whole TWiX spectrum. Seasoned scholars discussing the nuances as you do helps inspire me by elucidating the world that I’m steadily exploring with fun yet deep details of microbial machinery.

Keeping with tradition of mentioning local atmospherics, it is 26 degrees C here in Honolulu. Also in keeping with tradition, I believe that Vincent should also be nicer to Dickson, whose commentary in particular I treasure.

The political commentary is slightly longer than I prefer, if only because the intersection of science and politics at this time is somewhat despair-provoking. I agree with the principles that you’ve mentioned across various episodes, though.

Having been so inspired by TWiV, I’ve just purchased a copy of Principles of Virology that I’ve had my eye on for several months. Should any of you ever grace our tiny island, I’ll happily take whoever makes it for beers.

Warm regards,


Ewa Beach, Hawaii

Laura writes:

Doctors Vincent Racaniello &  Dickson Despommier,

I recently found TWIM, TWIP, TWIV while adding podcasts on aquaculture to my list. I finished my laboratory sciences degree back in 2010 and I’m quite sad I hadn’t come across you sooner!  I find myself addicted to your shows- to now include Urban Agriculture. Despite my addiction and subsequent strife of not having enough time in the day to podcast n’binge I would like to extend my gratitude. I delight in the histories and stories previously unknown to me, as well as your humorous and informative banter.

I read these articles this last week and thought of you two.

Theileria parva-

Yellow Fever-

Rat Lungworm-


Thanks for all that you do,


Raihan writes:

Dear TWIV Hosts (I hope this is gender neutral enough, if not I will use TWIV Hosts(ess)),

I have several comments to the past few TWIVs:

  1. TWIV 437: WWTP is a common abbreviation for wastewater treatment plant. I am currently working as a post doc in the Water Desalination & Reuse Centre in KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia). One of my projects involves studying the different viruses present in a wastewater treatment plant. We studied the different viral species entering the wastewater treatment plant in human waste, the viruses which are retained in different stations of the wastewater treatment plant, the viruses which are exiting the wastewater treatment plant and the viruses which are inactivated by the wastewater treatment plant. I’m sure by now you must be sick of saying wastewater treatment plant and appreciate the WWTP abbreviation. This is extremely useful in writing manuscripts on WWTP efficiency with really low word count limits.
  2. TWIV 435: You brought up the plaque video which was discussed in TWiV 68 ‘Ode to a Plaque’. I remember hearing this TWiV as a miserable PhD student and showing it to my supervisor. He then used it in a lab practical to teach about plaque formation. Fast forward several years, I was invited to lecture on ‘Introduction to Virology’ in a Public Health Course in my current institute. I used the same video for my lecture and I still get mesmerized by it. In fact, after showing the video I played it again just to observe the awesomeness of the plaque formation
  3. I can’t remember which TWiV where this was discussed, but the topic of digital PCR was brought up. One of the hosts mentioned that the machine is expensive and has to be in a core facility to be shared by different groups because of the cost. I’d like to say that we have a dPCR machine in our lab (not sharing with anyone else). This dPCR machine runs on a different principle than the one discussed on TWiV which is droplet based. Our machine  runs by partitioning the DNA template on a chip . This machine costs approximately 5X less than the droplet-based  digital PCR machine, still rather expensive, but funding is not a big limitation to research in Saudi Arabia. Maybe the United States should follow the same model for research funding as Saudi Arabia, tell that to the far right.
  4. Lastly I’d like to express my appreciation to Prof Rich Condit. Nowadays, it seems like if one want to be successful in research, one should sacrifice family time. But on several occasions, Prof Condit had mentioned how he made sure that he allocates time for work and family even as a young researcher. I specifically remember Prof Condit explaining that he was in charge of baths before bedtime when his children were younger. This meant that he had to return home early and make the time at work really productive. I totally can relate to this as I am in charge of bedtime readings and school lunch preparation and I do not want to push all of this to my poor suffering wife, who also has her own career. I also follow other advice which Prof Condit has given like to put away any frivolous matters at work and focus on research and to come in for a few hours over the weekend to catch up on any work. I feel that young parents should really embrace and enjoy the time with children when they are young, because this time will never come back, and I look to Prof Condit as an inspiration for this. I also hope that in retirement, I can spend time traveling and visiting my children and grandchildren, just like Prof Condit. One can spend time with family and still do well in research. The pressures of publishing can get to a young researcher but spending time with the family, I find, is the best way to beat the stress.

Sorry for the long email

Best Regards,

a huge fan ,


(sadly im not working on influenza B viruses anymore But they’re still my BaBies)

Monday, 29 May 2017 09:05

TWiV 443 Letters

Written by

Anthony writes:

“[Propaganda] must be aimed at the emotions and only to a very limited degree at the so-called intellect… The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses.”

— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, pp. 180

And here’s what a contemporary political consultant says:

“Victory is determined by an emotional response in the gut of the audience, rather than by an intellectual response in the mind of the audience. The heart, not the head, is the proper target.”

Thank you for your great appearance on TWiV.

Ralph writes:

Howdy from Texas,

It is 73 degrees  and cloudy here in Dallas. First, I want to thank you for sending me a copy of Vaccines and Your Child a while back. I hope it has better prepared me to talk about that subject if I run across someone who is against vaccinations. I have not met anyone like that in a while, which is good, for the most part. I would encourage almost anyone to get vaccinated against major viral threats. But, I wonder if you would call me anti-vaccine. That is because I do have some problem with the government requiring parents to have their children vaccinated. I do know about herd immunity and the risk choice brings.

I have a couple of comments about today’s show. The first is a mistake I see way too often lately. You draw invalid conclusions about people based on their positions and needlessly demonize them. For example, you describe people as anti-science because they are

against GMO foods.  I am very pro-science and also against GMO foods. I think most GMO foods are safe, but because of the way the patent system works, I think GMO foods concentrate way too much power in the hands of a few corporations and threaten long term food security. My objections have little or nothing to do with science.

The second comment is about climate change. The problem here is mostly about people trying to simplify this issue too much and drawing invalid conclusions. The person in your group who seems worst about this is Dickson Despommier. People who argue for lots of government

intervention on this issue often describe the problem, to the extent there is one, as man-made. The science on that is very weak, and I usually characterize it as junk science. I also rarely hear any comments about the benefits of warmer climate. For example a wider range of land is suitable for important crops like wheat. So, when I hear the term climate change denier, I am put off. There is some evidence to support the claim of warming of the planet in the last 100

years, but nothing useful about it being man-made. Do I call myself a denier?  How can I ignore the evidence just to support an argument by people who want the government to control more of our lives?  I listened carefully to the Skeptoid episode “The Simple Proof of Man-Made Global Warming” which proved nothing of the sort. Brian is not a scientist, but I listened after you recommended the show months ago. It does not make me anti-science to have doubts about anthropomorphic climate change or to doubt that the government can solve the problem.

To specifically answer Rich Condit, I am conservative and I am a computer scientist. I was trained to think logically through a problem. I led a debating society for a while and Alan is right about it teaching critical thinking. The liberals seem to want to control our lives and use every excuse they can find. When does the government ever want to let go of power?  And, when the evidence is as weak as it is for climate change being man-made, it seems natural for conservatives to answer their way they did in that poll. I don’t watch TV. I have not had a TV since 2001, so I never saw much of Fox cable.

I call myself a computer scientist, not a software engineer. That decision is mostly political. I live in Texas and in Texas, it is illegal to advertise yourself as an engineer unless you are board certified as an engineer. This goes back to the early 20th century after a bridge collapse.  I learned the history from the father of a friend who was grandfathered to be able to call himself an engineer without that certification.

442 is a good number. My first car was a Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 and it was a really fun car to drive. In episode 441, I cringed when Vincent made his Y chromosome joke, because I knew he would catch grief for it. I knew he meant nothing bad, because he is so wacko left wing. But, so it goes. I don’t listen to just those I agree with.

My listener pick is a dilbert cartoon:

Have a good day,


Angela writes:

Dear TWiV team and science activists,

I was so impressed with what you all had to say on the podcast from D.C. that I am listening to it for the second time and am inspired to write a blog post based on your message. You may recall from Rich, that I write a blog about Vipassana meditation and special needs parenting. You may wonder what science advocacy has to do with Buddhism and Epilepsy. The answer is EVERYTHING. For a more in depth exploration of the topic, you’ll just have to wait and read my blog post!

I write to you today to ask your permission to quote the podcast in my post. I will include links to TWiV and give full credit to each of you.

Also, I have a couple of responses to your comments:

First, I believe it was Dickson who discussed the old Mr. Wizard show and commented that we need something similar today. Well, we have it courtesy of Bill Nye and his new Netflix show, “Bill Nye Saves the World”. Lots of fun and geared toward adults.

Second, Janis Joplin got her start playing at Threadgill’s in Austin. The place started as a gas station & beer hall. It has the distinction of being granted the first beer license in the country. Rich, as an Austinite, it behooves you to learn more about the history of your new home (The Live Music Capitol of the World). Check out to learn more about your new neighborhood.

Keep up the excellent podcasting!

Angela Black, MD

Marion writes:

Twiv 442. An important topic, no doubt. But there was little new here. Moreover, it appeared that the panel was unaware of other important work on the topic.

As for the idea of “planting doubt,” the 2014 film “Merchants Of Doubt” clearly laid out that the oil executives deliberately learned techniques from tobacco executives about how to seed doubt when little genuine doubt existed in the scientific community. Towards the end, one executive even admits that they deliberately warmed the climate in order to improve access to arctic waters to drill for oil. Currently, there are still several prominent media-savvy paid shills for the oil companies who continue to promulgate the false “doubt.”

As for the idea about correlations between political affiliation and reactions to science, The 2005 book by Chris Mooney, “The Republican War on Science,”(2005)” …( To quote wikipedia) ..”argues that the [W Bush] administration regularly distorted and/or suppressed scientific research to further its own political aims.” About his 2012 book,  “The Republican Brain”  (also from wikipedia): “Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times that Mooney makes a good point: the personality traits associated with modern conservatism, particularly a lack of openness, make the modern Republican Party hostile to the idea of objective inquiry.[7]”Mooney’s work is evidence-based.

Also, the April 28 issue of Science cover story is on this topic.    Rather than the tiresome and vague mantra that narratives are more effective than facts, they give multiple  possible solutions:

  1. “appealing to consensus among scientists”
  2. Tell parents that their choice could hurt other people’s children
  3. Casting doubt on the credibility of sources of misinformation
  4. Making vaccination as convenient as possible
  5. Legislating to make it harder to get exceptions
  6. Pediatricians refusing to take unvaccinated patients.

My point is not that narrative is necessarily ineffective, but that science denial is at core a political issue. Its “followers” are being manipulated through multiple psychological tools.

Martin writes:

Dear Professor Racaniello,

sending greetings from Europe, english is not my first language, so please be patient with me.

I am a big fan of your virology lectures on youtube,

I have got an university degree in mechanical engineering, and i believe in Creator of all life on Earth.

I am not a religious fanatic, i do visit church only few times per year.

Please allow a brief intro:

Because i am mechanical engineer, i just can’t digest some ideas what biologists present in 21st century, in Era of advanced engineering and supercomputers.

I could name a lot of examples where huge engineering problems have been solved by so called random mutations.

e.g. RGB image processing, sound processing, autofocusing, or, another very complex engineering challenge – the synchronizing of human eyes movement …

There are so many other examples i could mention …

something more recent – this is one of my favorite – functional gear which sychronize movement of bug’s legs when jumping,

have a look here:

as an engineer, i just refuse to believe, that functional gear can be assembled by chance, by random mutations without any intention AND KNOWLEDGE in physics, math, mechanical engineering.

Nevermind, i have also a question from virology:

I hoped that one of your lecture named ‘Virus evolution’ will explain where viruses come from.

Unfortunately, I did not learn.

Please try to ignore that i believe in a Designer, i really like your work, i realize how smart and educated one have to be to do such research.

I am also glad you share your research with other people – for free.

You said, virus purpose is unclear but these things are everywhere.

Moreover, viruses are part of our genome.

I was wondering, what do you think about my idea,

of course, it is biased, i am still someone who believes in an Engineer,

but please try to ignore it for a moment,

here it goes:

Today we see a lot of electronic devices which needs to be updated from time to time with new firmware, not to mention, that whole operating systems need to be updated as well.

When you consider, that a virus DNA is a part of our DNA, and when you would accept that DNA is a designed ‘code of life’, could a virus be some kind of update code?

in your lecture you said, most of the viruses do not seem to do any harm….

Perhaps they do good and update the genomes in some way

I hope i do not sound too crazy ..

lets assume, there is an Engineer who has designed all life on Earth and he loaded all the information to various genomes.

If i would be that Engineer, i would like to keep a way how to update my ‘creation’ from time to time –

but i would like to do it gently, without too much fuss, without to kill a thing, just to tweak it a little.

You are the expert, can you imagine, that a virus could do the job? The update-job?

You said you see viruses everywhere, plants, animals, humans, bacteria, even viruses ‘infect’ viruses.

I apologize for being ridiculous, but if i would be that Engineer, i would definitely design some ‘backdoors’ to be able to tweak the organism.

Moreover, some scientists thinks, that some viruses might be a way how to regulate population (e.g. bacteria population)

this is not what i exactly thought, although i can imagine, that Engineer may have designed some kinds of viruses for regulation purposes as well, in case that something gets out of control.

But i would like to stick with my main question – the ‘code update job’, if something like this could make sense.

or does it sound too crazy?

Thank you

Jens writes:

Dear Vincent and TWiV Team,

Thank you very much for discussing our paper on a novel mononegavirus (PpNSRV-1) on TWiV 434 so patiently. Since you called me (Jens) out by name directly (thank you!), we thought we would respond to some of the discussion points that were raised by the Team. Feel free to cut this somewhat lengthy reply at will should you choose to read it on the air.

You asked about the definition of a “drosophilid”. The suffix in this vernacular nomenclature term, “-id”, is all you need to pay attention to. In all non-viral nomenclatures, suffixes such as this one tell the reader to which taxon a particular organism group belongs to, and the suffix is directly correlated with the suffix in the official formal name. “-id” is typically reserved for families as in this case: a drosophilid is a member of the family Drosophilidae.

This correlation holds true throughout most taxonomies: for instance gorillas are hominids (members of the family Hominidae) as are orangutans and humans. One rank up: hominids and hylobatids (members of the family Hylobatidae, i.e. gibbons) are hominoids (members of the superfamily Hominoidea). One rank down: humans are hominines (members of the subfamily Homininae) but gorillas are not (they are gorillines, i.e. members of the subfamily Gorillinae). Once thought through, you now know what are: canids (aha! Not all canids are canines, but all canines are canids!), bovines (yes, that’s a subfamily) etc.

In virology, we unfortunately have not yet installed such a system systematically, although especially plant virologists are avant-gardists and are increasingly using a similar system (bunyavirids, anyone?). In 2006, Vetten and Haenni suggested to introduce taxon-specific suffixes for virologic vernacular names (PMID: 16721512). Accordingly, the collective members of orders, families, subfamilies and genera would receive names that have the suffixes -virads, -virids, -virins, and -viruses, respectively. Thus, ebolaviruses (i.e. members of the genus Ebolavirus) would be filovirids (members of the family Filoviridae) and mononegavirads (members of the order Mononegavirales). Implementing this system would have the advantage that ambiguities in name calling would be diminished. For instance, a reference to picornavirads would immediately clarify that we are talking about members of the order Picornavirales, whereas a reference to picornavirids would mean we are talking about members of the family Picornaviridae only. Currently, the often used term “picornaviruses” is ambiguous. Alternatively (or in addition to implementing the vernacular suffix system), we could finally start an effort not to have taxon names that contain identical word stems: if either the order name Picornavirales or the family name Picornaviridae were changed, then the ambiguity about the word “picornavirus” would disappear, for instance.

Especially during the Easter egg after the end of the episode, you seemed very frustrated by the very many specific entomological terms used in our paper. However, we are of the opinion that scientific writing ought to be as succinct as possible. Maybe it is a consolation for you that entomologists think virologists are insane with their specific terminologies and that reading a virology paper for an entomologist may be as frustrating as reading an entomology paper is for a virologist?

We think the TWiV team was highly successful in explaining our paper and the various terms to the audience and we enjoyed the episode a lot. However, you honed in more and more on the term “secondary sex ratio” and in the end you even suggested this term may  be derived from a wrong Google translation from the Chinese. We of course love making up terms as much as the next scientist. But unfortunately we cannot claim “secondary sex ratio”, a term that has been taught in elementary biology classes for decades: the primary sex ratio is the sex ratio at conception; the secondary sex ratio is the sex ratio at birth (for insects at emergence); the tertiary sex ratio is the sex ratio at adulthood; and the operational sex ratio is the sex ratio of males and females ready to mate.

Thank you for calling me (Jens) a persuasive guy. Maybe I should have been more persuasive when it comes to choosing the virus name. However, I respect the name the discoverers chose for the virus. Naming of viruses will become increasingly difficult in the future with hundreds, thousands, or even more new viruses discovered in single studies. You referred repeatedly to the Nature paper from right before Christmas describing some 1,400 new RNA viruses (PMID: 27880757). In that case, the authors simply used the place of discovery, the host it came from, and a number for virus name formation. Thus we now have “Hubei diptera viruses 1-19” with two of those being orthophasmaviruses (6 and 7), three being phenuivirus-like (3-5), 2 being rhabdoviruses (9 and 10), one being close to PpNSRV-1 (11), three being partitiviruses (17-19), one of them being a picornavirus (1) etc. In the case of PpNSRV-1 you do not have isolation place information in the name, but at least you do know the host (Pteromalus puparum) and at what kind of virus it is (a negative stranded RNA virus). I do not know which format is preferable and I doubt there will be universal agreement on any format across subspecialties. Unfortunately, there are currently no nomenclature standards for virus naming or virus name abbreviation formation – I wish there were. Personally, I am of the opinion that virus names ought to be very short and that they do need to contain any kind of information (we do not say “sub-Saharan fierce felid 1” but seem to be okay with “lion”, thus I prefer virus names such as “Measles virus” over long constructs). However, opinions differ among virologists and naming especially quickly becomes emotional. We have names such as “Pteromalus puparum negative-strand RNA virus 1” in mammalian virology as well. Think about constructions such “Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus”, “severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus”, “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus” etc. Yet, while I find these constructions indeed horrible and in practice unusable (there is a reason why people say “MERS virus” and “SARS virus”), these names seem to be supported by a large cohort of virologists.

You mentioned that we assigned PpNSRV-1 to a novel species, Pteromalus puparum peropuvirus, and that thank God you now may not have to use “Pteromalus puparum negative-strand RNA virus 1” anymore. You should know from my last TWiV with you, though, that species and viruses are not the same thing – hence “Pteromalus puparum negative-strand RNA virus 1” is here to stay at least for the short term. If the difference between species and viruses is still unclear, then I suggest doing a supernumerary TWiV episode on taxonomy J

Finally, I would like to point out that the 1,400 RNA virus Nature paper indeed uncovered several PpNSRV-1-like viruses, which will change the phylogeny of mononegaviruses. Preliminary analyses now suggest that PpNSRV-1 is not a new nyamivirus as we thought, but instead the founding member of an entirely new mononegaviral family. We hope to finish an official taxonomic proposal before this year’s ICTV deadline (June 8).


Jens on behalf of all co-authors (copied).


If you or the audience is interested in the latest official taxonomy of the order Mononegavirales, please look up PMID: 28389807 (published April 7).


I can’t tell you what the weather is like here in Frederick, MD, because this email was so long that it changed at least four times while writing it as is typical for the area. Looks warm, though.

Jens H. Kuhn, MD, PhD, PhD, MS

Virology Lead

Tunnell Government Services

Carolin writes:

Dear Twiv-sters:

I really enjoy your podcast and would like to tell you how you have helped ‘salve’ a wound in my heart after 25 years:

You see, I am lawyer with a biochemistry degree. In 1987, I received my bachelor of science in Biochemistry from Michigan State University. During my junior year, I encountered two professors in our microbiology class. They were “researchers”, not the usual professor who was on sabbatical. At the time, I was having some trouble with my eyes including some eye infections from wearing contacts for long hours while studying. So I sat in the front row close enough to see the board and slides, etc. As a result, I was horribly picked on by the professors, who called on me and gave me a horribly hard time when/if I did not know the answers. I was so angry, that I studied extra hard and got an A, the second highest grade in the class after a graduate student.

Unfortunately, this experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth about whether or not I would do well in graduate school. I looked around and found law school to be my alternative. I’ve done okay as a lawyer, graduating from the University of Michigan in 1990 (Go Blue, Kathy!) and even enjoyed it sometimes. I have used my science background and love of science as much as I could, including a few years of patent law and 12 years of representing persons injured by asbestos injuries, battling with asbestos manufacturing over the epidemiology of causation.  However, I have always wondered what had happen had I taken the road not travelled and gotten that masters degree…

So every time I listen to a Twiv podcast, your professional, positive attitudes are very healing to me. I appreciate how you are all still curious about each other’s work, how you share information and ideas and address controversies with care. I do wish I had professors like you in my microbiology class. There may be a young female student blinking hard in the front row someday who will really really appreciate it.

Thanks much and keep up the great work!!

(p.s. I really enjoyed the discussion of viral plaque assays. I actually did follow a lot of it after all these years!)

Carolin K. Shining

Shining Law Firm

Sherman Oaks, CA

Noah writes:

Dear Beloved Professors and TWiVers,

I am a microbiology major at the University of Florida and a verdant TWiVee. This semester, I am taking Dr. James Maruniak’s virology class, so in January I was susceptible and looking for a supplement to my lectures when I stumbled across your infectious podcast. WOW, have I not been disappointed.

I suppose that science is a language of many dialects, and a large part of learning part of any field is in hearing its language used and thinking in it often. I listen to podcasts mostly as I perambulate from class to class or occasionally when I am in the lab doing BCA assays, running Western blots, counting cells in “flow”, staining tissue, cutting slides, injecting mice, etc.. The TWiX family has virtually monopolized my podcast-listening time as I work my way backwards try to make it back to the beginning. Thank you for everything you do.

This may be a pedantic and really unimportant not-even-really-a-correction, but I have been searching for a moment and an excuse to send a piece of fan mail; so, here it goes: Einstein’s work in temporal relativity corrected our understanding of phenomena at scales as large as the speed of light or as huge as the mass of a black hole. Anyway, the arch of history is long, the curvature in the fabric of spacetime is longer, and the hitherto intractable problem facing modern physics involves the big of Einsteinian gravity and small of quantum mechanics seeming to speak incompatible languages.

That said, most corrections that must be made with Laplace transforms are typically very, very small, which must have been what Dr. Dove meant. Also, Einstein did describe the energy in all amounts of mass (including very small quantities), photons tend to be small, and the decay of muons is related to their velocities per time dilation, so Dr. Dove does not err.

I recommend your podcasts to my friends and colleague, and although I could never have enough time to extol every virtue of TWiX, I do say that your voices are always pleasant, your ideas always sound sharp, the science is just thick enough, and Dr. Racaniello’s weather is always in degrees C.

Okay, I better get back to studying for my immunology exam.

Everyone, thank you again for your excellent work.

Thank you for being nice to Dickson. He asks the questions that I would not have the courage to ask.

May your listenership ever be over 9,000.

Sincerely, Noah

Peter writes:

Hi TWiV team.

Just a couple of listener picks for TWiV first from wartime Poland:

How a Fake Typhus Epidemic Saved a Polish City From the Nazis

  How a Fake Typhus Epidemic Saved a Polish City From the …

During World War II, a man went to the doctor in Rozwadów, Poland with a unique complaint. He was one of thousands of Poles forced by the Nazi occupiers to work in …

and a second pick describing life in the city of Guangzhou at the time of the SARS outbreak:

6 Ways Life Gets Complicated When Disease Overruns Your Town

A first hand account of life in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou which in 2002 became the epicentre of the SARS epidemic.



Monday, 22 May 2017 08:32

TWiV 442 Letters

Written by

Anthony writes:

The Royal Society added 2 new photos.

12 mins ·

British physician Edward Jenner FRS, the pioneer of smallpox vaccine, the world’s first vaccine, was born #onthisday in 1749. (this was 17 May)

Often referred to as “the father of immunology”, his work is said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other human.”

Also: The Royal Society

It was #onthisday that British physician & scientist, Edward Jenner FRS, administered the first smallpox vaccination in 1796. (this was 14 May)

Often referred to as “the father of immunology”, his work is said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other human.”

Marion writes:

from twiv 441, at 1:31:

“A virologist by inheritance. Is that on the Y chromosome? I guess so.”


Paul writes:

Dear Vincent and fellow twivers

Greetings from Oz! Another great podcast this week with your focus on a paper describing the role of the Y chromosome on influenza susceptibility. As always, it made my trip to and from work at the University of Queensland both pleasurable and informed.

I wanted to pick up on a comment from another listener of a father and son virology connection and Vincent’s throw-away comment that this genotype/phenotype must be Y chromosome linked. Attached is irrefutable proof that the link must be anything other than the Y chromosome – perhaps epigenetic? The attached picture (  is of my daughter and I in front of our respective posters at the Boston Positive Strand RNA virus meeting a few years ago. We were thrilled to be presenting side-by-side at the meeting. Lucy is currently a post-doc working in viral immunology in Seattle with Ed Clarke. Her partner, Justin is in Mike Gayle’s lab next door. If the phenotype is hereditary, it will be strong in our family! Both are also big fans of TWiV.

Keep up the great work – lots of fans in Australia and I recommend the podcast to all my virology students.

Weather in Brisbane is currently sunny and 23degC, heading into what is our winter – or what we locally refer to as our not-so-hot season.



Professor Paul R Young | Head of School |

School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences (SCMB) | The University of Queensland | Brisbane | Queensland | Australia |

Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre (AID) | The University of Queensland | Brisbane | Queensland | Australia |

PS Vincent, I meant to mention – I now have my first ever polio paper!! Trivalent IPV delivery to follow soon.



Raihan writes:

Dear TWiV hosts,

On TWiV 441 you guys went on a short tangent talking about the potential laptop ban on flights coming from Europe. You guys were mentioning how this is a problem as you can’t get work done on flights and may have to resort to reading a ‘paper book’ on the flight. Well the problem is more than that. I am a Singaporean working in the Middle East and the laptop ban had hit us several months earlier. The ban here includes both laptops and tablets. The regulations state that these devices need to be checked into the baggage and won’t be allowed on as hand carry. That’s where the problem lies. We are scientists and our electronic devices hold our extremely precious data (insert gollum meme here). We can’t run the risk of checking in our laptops when the airline can lose our bags or if our bags get handled roughly resulting in damage to the device. I know this is a perfect ad placement opportunity for Drobo to sell their products but still, a lost or broken laptop can put a researcher back several days if not weeks.

The laptop ban and the horror stories of people traveling to the US from the middle east has scared us pretty bad over here. I have been accepted to present a poster for ASM at New Orleans next month, but the fears of losing my laptop or getting manhandled on flight or at border security has led me to decide against going to ASM. I have asked our American collaborators to present our data on my behalf. The saddest part of all, I only found you that you guys will be recording a show at ASM after I had decided not to go.  I guess it’s a little too late to change my mind, especially since my collaborators have accepted to present.

On a side note, the IT store on campus now sells bubble wrap to wrap your laptops in if you’re travelling to the US. I know I sound a little paranoid, but I’ve been hearing too many horror stories from the news or fellow colleagues traveling to and from the US that I just won’t want to risk it, even if it means not getting a chance to meet you guys (*sad face).

Best Regards,


Trudy writes:

Hi TWiVers,

In follow-up to your discussion about mouse work on TWiV 441, I would like to add that when I was working on RSV we did all of our work in female mice, primarily because they are less aggressive than male mice.  

Also, when I was at the CDC I recall hearing a very interesting talk by a staff scientist from Jackson laboratories.  Most notably, she discussed breeding methods and the rules for mouse genetic nomenclature, which can be very confusing!  Unfortunately I don’t remember her name, but might I suggest finding such a person as a guest for TWiV?  I found her talk very interesting, and it might answer some of your questions.



Bob writes:

On TWiV441 the panel discusses “consomic strains,” details of genes on chromosome Y, etc. etc. I get at least the drift of the discussion, thanks to having taken Dr. Rosalind Redfield’s wonderful online Useful Genetics 1 & 2 courses.

Every time I hear such a discussion I again in frustration wonder whether there is a resource to learn more detail about the genome. Is there an “Encyclopedia Genomica,” as it were?

For example, when panelist Kathy Spindler talks about some details of multi-copy genes on the Y-chromosome, is she acquainted with such details as the result of her own research, papers she has read, or from such a resource

I know that this is not really a question specific to virology, but do any of the panelists know the answer?

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.


Robert writes:

Hi Drs TWiV,

My name is Robert Huff, I am a Cell and Molecular Biology Masters student finishing up my first year at San Diego State University. I work in Dr. Roland Wolkowicz virology lab where I am in the process of developing a cell based assay to monitor the proteolytic cleavage of the Zika Virus proteome. The weather here is sunny and 23 degrees Celsius. I began listening to TWiV about a year ago and have been working my way through the archives in both directions.

My pick is for a science communication project that I just completed as an end of term presentation in one of my graduate classes where we were tasked with the project of explaining our research in a way that the general public could understand. We used a really cool presentation technology called Learning Glass where the speaker faces the audience and writes on a large transparent glass “white board”. There is a camera in the audience that films the speaker as they write and uses a computer program to flip the image and displays it on a multitude of TV screens in the room, so the presenter and write while facing the audience. Its a really awesome technology that I wasn’t aware of and helps to easily convey a message.

Anyways I think this is a great idea to use to help portray the important work that academic labs perform in a way that is easy to get across to an audience that aren’t necessarily experts in the science field.

I’ve attached a dropbox file of my presentation of my own work, although the presentation might not be the best out of my class I am very proud of the work. Hope you enjoy it!

Thank you all for such a great podcast! It keeps me sane when doing home made site mutagenesis, cloning, and countless hours of tissue culture experiments!

The best to all of you,


zika presentation.mp4

Monday, 15 May 2017 09:02

TWiV 441 Letters

Written by

Jean-Michel Claverie writes:

Dear Vincent:

Roaming on the net, we discovered yesterday that you dedicated a whole episode of TWiV (440) to Noumeavirus. Thanks for contributing to our fame ! 

Even though you made fun of me and Chantal about our style (“strict” embargo, circumvolution, etc …) we were impressed by the details in which you went through the paper. Good job. I wish our students/postdocs would go into such details too.

However, some of the questions you asked were actually answered in the …. supplementary materials (such as messenger polyadenylation). As for tracking the viral DNA inside the host cell, we tried (using EdU) but had no success yet. Same in expressing other GFP-tagged proteins. This is unfortunately tricky in the Acanthamoeba system.

As mentioned by Richard Condit, such experiments have been attempted with Poxviruses for dozens of years without success …. so give us more time.

As for the recent paper on the new “super giant”  Klosneuviruses authored by Schulz et al (with Koonin), I (and others) have huge reservations about it, and I will probably post my comments about it on PubPeer and/or pubmed in the near future. Basically, I don’t believe in viruses until I have is isolated in a tube. I believe ICTV does agree with me in not taking for granted metagenomic assemblies as good enough evidence for “new” viruses, especially “revolutionary” ones.

Thanks again for your interest in our research,

Bien amicalement and meilleurs souvenirs,

Jean-Michel & Chantal

Nir writes:

Hi all,

I just finished listening to TWIV 440 where you discussed the transient disruption of the nuclear integrity by the giant Noumeavirus. Rich mentioned that he thought the evidence was not conclusive as to rule out the possibility of the viral DNA first entering the nucleus to initiate transcription. This reminded me of the entry process of two small DNA viruses, SV40 – a member of polyomaviridae (with a capsid of 50nm) and MMV (minute virus of the mouse, a member of parvoviridae with a capsid of ~26nm). Both of these viruses transiently disrupt the nuclear envelope integrity during their entry into the nucleus. Similarly to what was described for Noumeavirus, these disruptions consist of transient morphological changes in the nucleus and increased “leakiness”. I’ve attached the relevant papers.

Keep on the good work,

Nir, a postdoc in gloomy Chicago, where the weather is currently 7 C, cloudy and nowhere near as nice as back home in Israel…

Trudy writes:

Dear TWiVers,

I am writing this letter in response to Allison’s letter on TWiV 440 regarding adverse effects of vaccination. Since Alan seems to think that anecdotes are more likely to attract the attention of people who are opposed to vaccination, I would like to offer a few of my very own personal anecdotes.

Anecdote Number 1: I had severe cases of the flu two years in a row, in 1998 and 1999. I remember those years exactly, because the illness was so debilitating that I remember wishing for nothing more than good health. Both times the illness lasted a total of two months, mostly due to the bronchitis that developed as a secondary infection. I will never forget the misery, the pain, and the feelings of hopelessness and uselessness because I just wanted to feel healthy and productive again. Since 1999 I have been getting a flu shot every single year and since then, I have not had the flu. I have been around plenty of people who had the flu, especially family members and co-workers who refuse to be vaccinated. This year in particular was a very difficult flu season, with lots of co-workers missing work repeatedly for extended periods of time. I however, still did not get sick. If I did get infected with influenza virus in the past 18 years, the illness manifested itself with minor aches and pains which maybe lasted a total of 1-2 days, and after which I felt completely healthy again. This is consistent with reports indicating that even if the flu vaccine fails, in most cases, the severity and duration of symptoms are significantly reduced. (Sorry, I used a statistical term… I just can’t shake the scientific approach…)   

Anecdote Number 2: My children, who have also received the flu vaccine every year of their lives, including during their in utero season, have never had a full blown case of the flu. If they did get sick, the illness lasted a total of 1-2 days, and they NEVER developed any respiratory complications. In addition, they are, at their respective ages of 1 and 3, completely up to date on their vaccines, and they have never had any adverse effects from their vaccinations, besides the slight elevation in body temperature that sometimes occurs the night following vaccination. They have also never had any other serious infections. They have never had the measles, mumps, or rubella. They have never had polio, diphtheria, rotavirus infection, hepatitis B, pertussis, tetanus, bronchitis, pneumonia, or chickenpox. And because they haven’t had any of these diseases they haven’t passed them on to other children. You know what else they haven’t had?  Smallpox. And you know why? Because Smallpox was eradicated with a very effective vaccine more than 35 years ago.

Anecdote number 3:  I did NOT receive the MMR vaccine as a child, and consequently I had a full blown case of the mumps at the age of 7. I remember the illness distinctly, as I was bedridden for at least two weeks with extreme pain in my salivary glands. I specifically remember the pain as I tried to lift my head off the pillow, which you have to do every time you turn in bed, or get up to eat, or go to the bathroom. Even though I obviously eventually got better, this disease left me deaf in my left ear… 85% deaf to be exact. While it is not the end of the world, and I am perfectly healthy otherwise, 85% deaf on one ear means you can’t hear sound in stereo, so you often don’t know which direction sounds come from (e.g. elevator dings, people calling your name in crowded places, car horns, etc.). You’re also a nuisance to the people around you, as you’re constantly asking them to repeat themselves. You listen to music and audio really loudly, once again annoying those around you. You always watch movies with subtitles on, in order to keep the volume at a reasonable level, so as to not annoy those around you. You may not hear people when they’re talking to you from the affected side, especially in environments with the slightest background noise. If people don’t know you or about your disability, this can create some social awkwardness. Whispering anything into that ear is completely out of the question, as is telephone use on that side. Long story short, it is a major, MAJOR nuisance. It may even be a hazard at times.

What I have noticed with this entire anti-vaccine sentiment is a very unfortunate glorification of the old days, because life was allegedly so much simpler and “less toxic” back then. But that is not so. People routinely lost children to simple bacterial infections. Women routinely died in childbirth. Surgery of any sort was always very risky. My own distant family history is rampant with infant, child, and adult deaths from pneumonia and complications from various other bacterial infections. Why do we forget that?  Maybe we need to remind people about science history.

Anyway, keep TWiVing, dear TWiVoners.

Kind Regards,


Jeffrey writes:

I guess one could say that the AHCA bill is the kind that makes you sick.

Jessica writes:

Good afternoon Beacons of Viral Education,

Episode 424 was a contemporary favorite. I’m writing to win but also in regards to the discussion of prion diseases. In episode 424 it was said that vCJD prevalence was rare in the population but I wanted to ask– is it? The fact is, given the potential long duration of the pathogenesis of this disease AND the fact that we do not routinely test the expired for presence of vCJD unless they were symptomatic, I think it’s a pretty big assumption that it’s rare! I think the newly developed assays are going to be extremely valuable in contributing to the prevalence numbers in given populations. Perhaps the rate is low but we will hopefully find out once the non-invasive assay is refined and approved. Even then the sample size may remain small because without a cure or therapy people may not elect to be tested.

In regards to the containment question–thank you Alan for asking!!!! As a Biosafety professional it makes me heart sing to hear such important researcher-safety questions raised.

In my job we discussed this very issue of appropriate handling practices involving human brain tissues with microtomes or cryostats. Considering the paper (Haybaek et al

I thought you’d covered this last year or before?) that demonstrated transmission of prion disease through the aerosol route, it seemed unnerving not to play it safe and recommend containment for this activity. Especially knowing that the true prevalence of vCJD in the population is unknown!

In any event, I loved the discussion and as a previous field research technician responsible for removing deer brain stems with an apple corer to test for CWD, prions have been an interest of mine since the days of my undergraduate career.

I hope I’m #17 because I love the topic of infectious diseases as much as I love traveling to far flung places and eating weird things. The way I look at it is, the cultural, social and potentially medical adventure I may go on will add to my varied and interesting life story either way and worst case maybe make for a interesting epitaph!

In any event, I love the show and wish there were more time in a day, week etc. so I could consume all episodes of the whole suite. I especially love listening to such provocative content when even NPR nauseates me for reporting on (and I realize they have to) the flagrant stupidity of the newly appointed administration (you don’t have to repeat that aloud!).

Thanks again,


PS In RI, it’s 42F and 59% humidity with a gale warning in effect

PPS I wish Blue Apron had a holiday giving program where you could order meals for families in need (food deserts!)

Ted writes:

To the wonderful faculty of TWIV,

Recent mention of Dr. Richard Kessin’s book, The Famine of Men, whose main premise is that a virus has made all males sterile, while not affecting women, brought to mind the late crime novelist P.D. James’   uncharacteristic foray into science fiction, the dystopian novel, The Children of Men.

The James story is set in England in 2021 and its premise is that due to universal infertility of unidentifiable etiology, no babies have been born since 1995. One female who is a member of a dissident political group finds herself pregnant and the plot revolves about the small band’s flight for survival.

 The early pages of the novel contain the author’s well crafted take on Western’s science’s achievements which I think you will enjoy:

“We are outraged and demoralized less by the impending end of our species, less even by our inability to prevent it, than by our failure to discover the cause. Western science and Western Medicine haven’t prepared us for the magnitude and humiliation of this ultimate failure. There have been many diseases which have been difficult to diagnose or cure and one which almost depopulated two continents before it spent itself. But we have always in the end been able to explain why. We have given names to the viruses and germs, which, even today take possession of us, much to our chagrin since it seems a personal affront that they should still assail us, like old enemies who keep up the skirmish and bring down the occasional victim when their victory is assured. Western science has been our god. In the variety of its power it has preserved , comforted, healed, warmed, fed and entertained us and we have felt free to criticize and occasionally reject it as men have always rejected their gods, but in the knowledge that despite our apostasy, our creature and our slave, would still provide for us; the anesthetic for the pain, the spare heart, the new lung, the antibiotic, the moving wheels, and the moving pictures. The light will always come on when we press the switch and if it doesn’t we can find out why.”

Thank you all for the wonderful podcasts. May you keep the lights on in good health for many years to come.

Ted Splaver DMD

Adjunct Faculty, Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, College of Dental Medicine, NOVA SE University, Davie/Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Cait writes:

Hi TWiV folks,

First time writing in after listening for about a year and a half, and hoping I’m the lucky winner for the book contest! I fell behind a few weeks so I was pleasantly surprised while listening to this past sunday’s episode to hear you still hadn’t reached #27. Hope I’m it!

While catching up, I was excited to find the previous episode (#429) was taped with a group from the University of Wisconsin. I am from Madison originally and graduated from UW in May of 2014. During my last two years I was lucky enough to be an undergrad in Andy Mehle’s lab (influenza transmission) and it’s great to hear about all the cool work going on in virology back home.

I also just wanted to say thanks for all you do. Your podcasts help me get through my long days as a lab technician while I patiently wait for my boyfriend to finish up his PhD in microbio. Soon it will be my turn to go to school (applying to virology PhD programs this fall!) and TWiV keeps me up to date with the ever-evolving field of virology. Thank you for the intelligent discussions and laughter!



PS: In case you are still polling, I do listen all the way to the end of the episode!

David writes:

Hi, Twivniks,

It seems like every week I have an idea to write you about but never get around to it (do you have a round tuit, to spare?).

Anyway, this topic really strikes home so I am extra-motivated to contribute.

With respect to your discussion of potential protein folding disorders that have non-neurological consequences (twiv 431), there is at least one class that I am personally aware of. Desminopathies are caused by mutations in the gene that encodes the scaffold protein desmin, a component of the muscle contractile apparatus. At least in its autosomal dominant forms, desminopathy results in the accumulation of mis-folded aggregates in muscle cells that eventually produce what is called myofibrillar myopathy.

People with desmin mutations can present with muscular dystrophies that have varying ages of onset and rates of progression. The one in my family has a fourth to sixth decade-of-life onset, usually appearing as a limb-girdle-type dystrophy, affecting use of the legs and, more slowly, the arms. Loss of ambulatory function sometimes may not occur until the eighth decade. Perhaps the slow progression arises because “garbage disposals” in cells can deal with the mis-folded aggregates until they become too abundant, or the cells get “too old”.   

Desmin is particularly abundant in cardiac muscle, and desminopathy can manifest as both cardiomyopathy and conduction disease. Sometimes the consequences of the latter, before any skeletal muscle issues surface, are the first sign: sudden cardiac death can result.

Other organ systems in the body that depend on muscle function also can be affected.

I wonder if the cellular turnover (or lack of same) in a tissue is critical for whether it’s likely to be affected by a protein folding disorder. Cells that turn over rapidly might not allow accumulation of the aggregates. On the other hand, cells like neurons, and maybe muscle when there isn’t a lot of turnover, might be more susceptible. If the hypothesis is correct, one might expect exercise to slow the progression. I don’t think the relationship between desminopathy progression and exercise has been examined. This is counter-intuitive, don’t you think?  Because you might predict that constantly breaking down muscle and trying to rebuild it in a person with a muscle disease would be deleterious, not favorable.

So much for this diversion.

It’s currently 63° (17°C) with cloudless skies in Hershey, Pennsylvania. We’re expecting 1-3” of snow after midnight. Don’t you just love March in the temperate zones!

Virology Rules and you folks are the Court Royale!

Best regards,


David J. Spector, Ph. D

Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Immunology

Penn State Hershey

Jon Yewdell writes:


  1. Many thanks to you and the TWIV crew for another fantastic year of podcasts.
  2. Now for the pedantic comment. In TWIV 422, there seemed to be a consensus (@ 43 min) that the CNS is a dead end for viruses (in this case Zika). Rabies provides a clear example where CNS infection plays a critical, albeit indirect role in virus transmission, since the increased physical aggression driven by the virus (which can even be seen in humans, though not in this gruesome video ), fosters transmission through biting, as viral replication peaks in the salivary glands. It is plausible that CNS infection can foster transmission of mosquito borne viruses through numerous mechanisms. These include changing host behavior (making the patient less likely to avoid/prevent mosquito bites, thus favoring transmission), modulating the immune response (the CNS plays an underappreciated role in systemic antiviral immunity; see attached papers for participation of sympathetic nervous system in flu immune response), and like herpes viruses, infecting nerves that deliver the virus to barrier tissues (e.g. skin, mouth). The TWIV panel can probably come up with other potential mechanisms in a blue-sky discussion.
  3. A proposal. How about a father son TWIV episode?  Would be a first?  My son Teddy is a post-doc at Sloane Kettering. Though a virologist only by inheritance, he is working on B cell responses, and using flu as a model antigen (we just published our first co-authored paper). This could be really fun, and provide a new perspective on scientific careers.
  4. Very best wishes for the new year!


Karin writes:

Long time listener, first time caller!

I have read about extracellular morphological changes in archaeal viruses but can’t find such a technique in any other domain. I thought I would ask the experts.

Spreading the TWiX world here at Stony Brook,


Anthony writes:

I’ve been thinking of this in the letters to TWiV 425:

“My question for you and your many guests is what are the anomalous and unexplained phenomena in virology today – the facts and circumstances that defy explanation by the standard model?”

# # #

Before giving an answer, I’ll have to be very confident of knowing “the standard model.”

A few things did come to mind. If memory serves me correctly here

Sam Walton notes that in the early days of computer generated sales reports, He’d go into the office at a quiet time. (2 am Saturday morning?)  He’d place the stacks of big fanfold printout paper on the conference room table and then walk up and down looking for outliers. When he found a store doing better with some item, Sam Walton would call the manager to ask what they were doing.

Somewhere I read that the SEC “trolls” for insider trading by casting out an algorithm for every stock quote to swim through.. The software nets behavior that does not mirror the market,  If there’s later on some public announcement that explains the previous up or down movement, the SEC considers investigating.

Clearly, insight and intuition will be self-seeding in the garden of the prepared mind. Even so, might there be devised automated nets for fishing in the growing waters of metadata?

And, before anomalies can be caught, the trend needs to be known.

“’Information overload equals pattern recognition.’ At instant speed the hidden becomes plain to see.”

Marshall McLuhan


Brandon writes:

Dear TWiV consortium,

            First, please forgive my formatting, for I am not much of a letter writer. Second, my name is Brandon from Denver Colorado, a long-time listener who has only emailed once. Even that was a halfhearted attempt to win one of your contests. As for the weather right now I look out from my desk to a somewhat overcast 18 C day, expecting snow over the next two days. We are long overdue for our March snow storm but I enjoyed the ~22C weather while it lasted.  

            I write for no particular reason; a large part of it is the admiration I have for you all, part of it is that I have eked out just enough time to put together an email for you all, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. My favorite episodes are TWiV 373 with Dr. Younger and TWiV 395, The Cancer Thief, I have listened to those episodes many times over and have stopped me from remaining current. As much as I love the usual gang, your interviews with other distinguished virologists tend to be especially riveting.

            Now a little about myself (the least interesting part, I assure you). I am a high school dropout from a family of high school dropouts that eventually realized school is cool. I went back and finished my high school diploma and I am now in my final semester as an undergrad, earning a degree in Biology with a minor in chemistry. I am proud to say I will be going to the University of Florida to pursue a master’s degree in microbiology this upcoming fall, something that has never felt real or possible. I often have felt like quitting everything, but the Good Doctors of TWiV help keep me motivated. Through your constant humor (or “humor” from Dickson), stimulating discussions and continued desire to learn. Thank you all for the work that you do.

Tiredly yours, Brandon


P.S. I do find Dickson quite funny and appreciated his attempt at the OVER 9000 meme. I often find myself rolling my eyes with a smile on my face after one of his puns.

P.P.S There is a Regional Conference for ASM on April 15th that I am excited to attend and I thought others might be interested.

P.P.P.S I miss Rich.

Steve writes:

Hi Vincent et al,

I just read this brilliant editorial view from Richard Horton, and I think it would make a great listener pick, and deserves wide circulation for pinpointing one of the most insidious and damaging trends of our time.

Who knows: it might even help him see we don’t just like harassing him over PACE! 

“Difficult truths about a post-truth world.”  Lancet 170401

This is a great piece from Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet. It should remind us all that, while Brussels may seem to have more of a ‘green’, ‘socially responsible’ face than our own rabid government, the EU exists for the explicit purpose of promoting business, and is run by the business lobby, for the business lobby.

Especially note how the principle of truth of scientific objectivity, is being encouraged to be thought of as just another biased view from vested interests. This lobbying angle literally is capable of destroying worlds.

All the best,





Monday, 08 May 2017 10:09

TWiV 440 Letters

Written by

Maureen writes:

Hi my instructors in science. I just listened to TWIV 438 and have to say I agree with Bob’s letter. I have been meaning to write a similar letter asking that parts of episodes be addressed to those not as well versed in the nuances of virology or microbiology. I love and have listened to all the TWIs for years but I do have a wish sometimes that there could be a summary for those of us who need it. I was thinking that a short layman’s explanation before the paper is read e.g. this paper is important because ____ and it shows_____. We’re excited about it because_____. After discussing the paper a few sentences that say e.g. in summary the authors wanted to explore ____ and the conclusion of the study was ____. (especially the TWIM episodes). I really enjoy listening to the episodes even though I haven’t a clue what you are talking about sometimes but I just wish I had a little clue. Anyway, I agree too with you that the conversation mode rather than the lecture mode teaches us well and makes us feel included. I often fall asleep listening to your podcasts and find my mind immersed in your conversations in my dream. However, I keep wanting to join the conversation in my dream because I become someone important and none of you will shut up to let me say something. I must remember to put my timer on to limit my listening while falling asleep.

PS I forgot to add my pick of the week. This dad is amazing and so much fun.

Simple Science Experiments You Can Do With Eggs Before Breakfast

Neeraj writes:

Dear All,

  This is Neeraj and I am mailing after a long time on TWiV, but not because I have not been listening (that never happens J), but because I have been distracted with a lot of things. And in between the chaos, there is always room for TWiV.

I am particularly intrigued by the last couple of episodes. From Episode 437, I was astounded to hear that getting repeatedly vaccinated against seasonal Flu isn’t that beneficial. Could that partly explain the poor cure rates for some of the recent vaccines that have been developed? In the same light, the discussion highlighted the importance of vaccinating young children (someday I shall explain my 2 year old the benefit of that needle prick which made him scream from the deep lunges on his lungs). Yes the Immune system has limited capacity but do we really understand the reasoning behind why doesn’t our body develop as strong a memory response against subsequent viral challenges as it does to the first one? Is it the nature of the virus or the differences so subtle that out surveillance fails to detect and magnify it? Fascinating stuff and just goes to show that even after decades of research, we are still learning things about such a small yet powerful entity i.e. the flu virus. Given the current breadth of research, I am hopeful that someday we will completely move away from generating these viral strains in chicken eggs and develop an orthogonal way of overcoming this infection.

On a more subjective note, I really liked the march for science discussion as part of Twiv 438. I do agree that telling stories about science is far more effective that presenting hard cold evidence only. Evidence can definitely be presented in support of the discovery but one always remembers and appreciates more, if one knows the origins / details of the journey that was undertaken for the discovery. I can personally share an experience from my graduate school days at Rockefeller University. I was admitted to the TPCB program and in the initial stages of the program, there was a provision where students had a chance to meet with the participating faculty, one at a time for a lunch / introduction session. A lot of the professors presented data to highlight what they were doing but the interaction that captured my imagination was the lifetime chance to meet with Dr Paul Nurse (A nobel laureate and the university president at the time). He didn’t show any slides but shared his passion for science and how it helped him to discover cyclins serendipitously in yeast. The whole episode is still vividly registered in my head and I will never forget the humility and eagerness with which he urged us to attack the problems we care about with full vigor. Failure happens. It’s the nature of science. But it’s still a data point and at times a very important one. It’s always harder to know what not to do that to go do something. Like Thomas Edison famously said  when asked about the failures he undertook before inventing the light bulb. He just said “I didn’t fail, I discovered 20000 ways of how not to make a light bulb”. Attitude is a big component of success in general, but especially so in science, given that majority of things fail.

In the present scenario, I feel at times scientists get too sucked up by the data. The nature of the trade has also made it harder to work on things where there is no foreseeable therapeutic benefit (I will never understand why). Science communication is tough but it is a necessity one should engage in. It doesn’t have to necessarily start at the level of society or has to be big, but it has to be simple to understand and easy to remember (especially if one can mention the impact it has had on our understanding of something). Overall, I do feel there is more noise than order when it comes to the way science gets publicized and with the current administration hell bent on doing deeper cuts (I hope not), I worry about how one’s enthusiasm can stay afloat to pursue a career in it. Someone once mentioned to me, “ideas are cheap, experiments are expensive”. I don’t think I was in agreement then and I don’t think I am completely in agreement now, but I do think there is a fair balance that needs to be struck. In the end, I apologize for the lengthy rambling but I would like to sincerely thank the TwiX series of podcasts for making many of us more literate about the diversity surrounding us, with an honest dose of rationality. These podcasts are much more than just scientific discussion. They are a tool for shaping how one should think about discussing science. At least that’s what I feel and experience.

March On,


Neeraj Kapoor, Ph.D.

Scientist II

SutroVax, Inc.

Laurel writes:

Dear TWiV Team!!

Good afternoon!! This is my first time writing, but rest assured, I am a long-time listener! For the past five years or so, I’ve enjoyed listening to you all whether it’s been during my marathon training, while using the microscope to study Human Papillomavirus in Paul Lambert’s lab at UW-Madison, or while dissecting fruit flies in Haifan Lin’s lab at Yale.  

Our weather this afternoon here in New Haven, CT is grey, humid, and approximately 18°C. It’s similar to the weather at the March for Science, so I think it’s appropriate to share a few reflections from last week’s TWiV episode (438) on science communication.

Before I heard from the entire TWiV crew last week (including Kathy Spindler at our Yale Science Journalism Symposium – thanks again!), I had a limited view of science communication; I thought it was solely about translating the complex language of science into accessible information. I still think that this is an important aspect of science communication, especially in the classroom, but I now appreciate the importance to connect science with people and their beliefs.

I see how relevant this connection is, particularly when I reflect on my beliefs and evidence of climate change. Today, I accept that humans have rapidly changed the climate of the earth. Yet, for many years, I tried to deny and ignore the evidence. It was easier to deny the evidence than to accept that I have contributed to global climate change.

As a scientist, I believe that if we want to use evidence to change policy (such as climate change, vaccinations, and education), then we need to engage in conversations that incorporate both beliefs and evidence. Relatedly, one of last weeks  TWiV audience members, the microbiology professor, asked about tools that the scientific community can use to teach students how to critically analyze what they read, especially on the internet.

One tool that I would like to suggest is Sally Hoskin’s CREATE program. In the CREATE program, which I’d like to nominate for a listener pick, students analyze articles from the internet or printed sources such as WiredThe New York Times, or National Geographic. Through questioning what they read and the experiments that would be required to reach the article’s conclusion, students become critical of how data is interpreted and portrayed.

While at the University of Wisconsin, I really enjoyed implementing the CREATE program in a freshman biology course. Another highlight of the class was that the students also had a chance to meet scientists including Shelby and David O’Connor.

Speaking of David O’Connor, a reoccurring guest on TWiV, some of my favorite TWiV Episodes include those where there is a panel of scientists and we hear their stories of how they became scientists.

Thanks for creating TWiV, I really enjoy listening!

All the best,


P.S. You can read about my own story of how I became a scientist on my blog here:

Neil writes:

Dear TWiVcasters,

Yesterday, I finished listening to episode 438 on scientific communication. This episode also includes a letter pertaining to the origins of the use of the word “bug” to refer to all insects (or to bacteria). Last December, I published a commentary (attached and directly related to scientific communication) on the use of the word “bug” as modified by the prefix “super” to refer to bacteria exhibiting resistance to multiple antibiotics in Pathogens and Immunity (P&I). My thesis is that the routine reference to bugs that are super when discussing bacterial pathogens with resistance to many drugs is frequently based on minimal thought. Furthermore, such intellectual laziness leads to an overly narrow perspective on the critical challenge of controlling the spread of resistance mechanisms. Regardless of what you think about my perspective, I believe the topic is worthy of broader discussion.

By the way, P&I is a relatively new journal hosted at Case Western Reserve University. The founding editor, Michael Lederman, a well-known expert on HIV, and the other senior editors (of which I am one) are dedicated to improving the experience of investigators in submitting manuscripts. So, for example, we permit submissions in any National Library of Medicine-approved format and only require adoption of our preferred format after acceptance. Anyone interested in additional information on P&I should visit:

With respect to the claims that several of you made about science exemplifying the pursuit of truth and the reliance on evidence and logic, science at its best does certainly approach these ideals. Of course, science is not always at its best, as many of you have noted at various times. Some scientists, clinician-investigators, and science journalists make dubious claims and these examples of exaggeration are by no means rare. The attached brief essay explores the sources, science-related and from other arenas, of what I claim is an ever-increasing volume of statements that are proffered primarily for motives other than promotion of the truth, i.e. what can be described as BS.

Since this essay was published, I have settled on a new term to denote the totality of BS, which was inspired by the revolution in biomedical methods for interrogating thousands of genes, transcripts, gene products, or metabolites in parallel. Thus, all BS can be referred to as the “bullome.” The field devoted to studying the sources and nature of BS, an aspect of the study of cognition and critical thinking, can therefore be called “bullomics.”

Best regards,

Neil Greenspan


Neil S. Greenspan, M.D, Ph.D.

Professor of Pathology

Wolstein Research Building, Rm. 5130

Case Western Reserve University

Jeremy writes: (re TWiV 439)

Great podcast guys. Clear. Articulate. Interesting. Exciting.

The PERV CRISPR target number is 62.

Never underestimate George Church !

Genome-wide inactivation of porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs)

Yang L, Güell M, Niu D, George H, Lesha E, Grishin D, Aach J, Shrock E, Xu W, Poci J, Cortazio R, Wilkinson RA, Fishman JA, Church G

Dennis writes:

Hi Docs,

In TWIV 439 with Paul Bieniaz (wonderful twiv) Dr.  Vincent raised the idea that someone is trying to remove many porcine viruses. George Church in a talk described how they are trying to remove 61 viruses simultaneously using CRISPR.  If this can be done then porcine organs can be used for human organ transplants. I don’t know the latest. That’s exciting work. his talk can be found on YouTube but I haven’t searched for the link (on mobile right now).  I think it was a World Science Festival panel discussion with several Biochemists.

Best to you and thanks for the education!

Jean-Michel Claverie writes:

I know how much you are into the saga of “giant viruses”.

You will find enclosed my translation of a press-releases from the CNRS concerning a forthcoming publication in Nature Communications.

I also enclosed a copy of the proofs of the article.

I trust you to respect the strict embargo imposed by Nature

Best regards and Happy Easter!

Jean-Michel Claverie, Dr. Sc.

Director, Structural & Genomic Information Lab. (IGS, UMR7256 CNRS-AMU)

Head, Mediterranean Institute of Microbiology (IMM, FR3479 CNRS-AMU)

Professor of Medicine (PU1/PH)- Genomics and Bioinformatics

Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine, APHM

Ken writes:

Dear TWiV-Fellow Plaque Lovers,

Just finished listening to TWiV 437 while – you guessed it – doing a plaque assay (only 5 plates, not 200, my wall will be pretty small).  Wonderful, and not at all boring, TWiV on viruses that don’t make you sick.  

I must admit to an inordinate fondness for spindle-shaped viruses, maybe I will have to compete with Kathy.  (Shameless plug: see the cover of the next issue of J. Virology, Volume 91, issue 10, but who looks at journal covers any more???. . . .), The bicaudaviruses that were found in the CORK samples (from just off the Oregon coast) are fascinating.  One in particular, ATV, is known to undergo an extracellular morphological change in the virion whereby it “grows” tails (see Whether the subsurface ones do the same is an open question.

Thanks for not one but two TWiV bumps, hope that they will help with my three pending grant proposals.  I was also very pleased to hear Kim’s e-mail about the SEA-PHAGES program at Washington State University, run by a buddy of mine, William Davis, a great program.  I am trying a somewhat similar Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (aka CURE), “Mutant Viruses from Hell” aka. Advanced Molecular and Cell Biology Research Laboratory, some of whose results are in the aforementioned J.Virology paper (

Sorry that I will miss the DC March for Science and the live TWiV, but will be participating in the Portland March, hope that you all have a grand old time.  Weather in Portland, 14C, classic April weather, either pouring with rain or bright sunshine, wait 5 minutes and the weather will change. (For Vincent: The cherry trees are just starting to bloom.)

I also have a listener pick, which I don’t think that TWiV has covered yet.  The Fab Lab with Crazy Aunt Lindsey, a YouTube channel with kids DIY science projects, from making butter, citrus batteries, to yeast growth, etc.  It is a lot of fun and definitely another science communication channel.  (Second shameless plug, stay tuned for a guest appearance on the Fab Lab by XtremeVirusProf in the next season.)


Jessica writes:

Dear Dr. Racaniello,

I’m an admirer and long-time listener. Thank you for your podcast!

I’m really happy you’re marching as one of my favorite scientists and educators. That said, I’m also disappointed that many scientists including on the TWIV team did not join the women’s march to promote the science/fact agenda as I, and many others (Dr. Spindler) did. Sure, it was mentioned on the show but felt more like an observation or musing than anything.  

This lack of support/participation in January feels to me like a perpetuation of the bias against women that remains pretty dominant in the STEM fields. Our male counterparts are comfortably outspoken about the usefulness and criticality of science and data but not about equality.

I feel like it’s an affront to female scientists that our male colleagues were not as motivated to march for social justice as a cause that may directly impact funding and jobs for them personally.

I’m still a fan and I’m glad you’re participating in the resistance and for a great cause but I’m just sad at the fact that you missed an opportunity to buoy a movement that whether obvious or not, impacts you, science, research, and society at large.

I just wanted to let you know as someone who has spent the majority of my life studying/working in science as a female that I will not march because I did already and I promoted science back then as I was encouraged to do.  There were actually many signs about facts, science and climate change to name a few so I was not alone!

Good luck on Saturday,


I was really conflicted about writing you as I’ve been really conflicted about whether or not to participate in the march! I really do admire what you’ve done with TWiX in educating listeners world-wide. I admire that you defend research and the scientific method including by marching for science, but I wanted to let you know that I had this internal struggle.

I can relate to your personal feelings of disappointment because, when I participated in the women’s march in January and read many opinion pieces from women/people of color citing their disapproval of the march, it enabled me to understand that the dismissive sentiment is valid and fair. I hadn’t thought about it at the time I signed up for the march that I had been “absent” from many important demonstrations before the women’s march.  We all could have, should have marched many years ago to insist on justice and equality for our friends of color, women, refugees, immigrants etc.  In a recent example, we (marchers) should have showed up when the Black Lives Matter movement mobilized but many of us didn’t and we failed to drive the necessary change.

We all have blind spots, it’s part of life but those of us who have privilege can change the world if we recognize those shortcomings and make a point of helping where we’re needed going forward— I’m committed to show up to demonstrate for justice for all as often as possible.   I really appreciate your response and the efforts you’ve made previously to promote more diverse representation in science.  I also sincerely appreciate that you’ll use your influential position to continue to lift up your underrepresented colleagues.  

Thank you so much again for your response, I really do look forward to hearing about the march and great new episodes of TWiV.  I promote the podcast often as a biosafety professional supporting R&D because it’s important to me that folks working in this field understand the science.

Brian writes:

Hey, docs! Love the show, I listen often to all the TWix series, though TWiP and TWiM get more of my time; however, I wouldn’t have discovered them had it not been for this show.  I just couldn’t let it go when Alan, who I normally would think has much more sense and credibility to his statement or rather mis-statements, when he was talking about the size of the U.S. military.  We are not the largest, that would be China with 2.3 million which is about  3/4 quarters of a million more troops than the U.S. in 2nd place with 1.5 million troops.  Then you had to go a step further and say larger than the next ten biggest… well that number (of the NEXT TEN LARGEST, not the TEN LARGEST) is 7 MILLION, 53 THOUSAND, 201 to be larger.  Also, shame on Dickson, my favorite voice on the show, for affirming in the background with “correct”. I promise, I forgive you both.  I am sure I am not the only one to catch this ( at least I hope I’m not) but I felt the need to make the correction.  I don’t mean to sound critical but rather constructive, I know you are passionate about the issue at hand (NIH budget) and probably didn’t think that one through.  Happens to us all.  I am sure if my words were out there to be scrutinized by the masses that I too, would have several if not many mis-statements.  Anyway, I have beat that horse enough, and I am ready for another paper!

P.S.  Be nice to Dickson!  Only the listeners get to pick on him!  Haha just kidding, I love the banter and chemistry of the whole crew, you all make the show what it is.  There couldn’t have been a better cast for Seinfeld and there couldn’t be better for TWiV either!

Allison writes:

Dear TWIV masters,

 As Vincent spoke about the yellow fever vaccine in TWIV #430, he called Anti-Vaxxers “morons” because surely they would be against it, but all of you have it wrong. We don’t care what adults do to themselves, we worry about the kids, like the baby getting five shots in the photo below, with zero follow-up studies for any harm done. Because vaccines are considered harmless and left out of every equation, thus, the results of this great experiment continue to be ignored and no mysteries are solved. When I told the nurses at the clinic that the DPT they gave my son had paralyzed him for three days, they ran. So, I never brought any of my five children to doctors again. Does anyone remember back in the 1950s when there was only the DPT & OPV, and the OPV was broken up? Today, babies are getting 25 doses by 6 months, and the “Gee, that’s funny” observation of a most bizarre reaction called autism has been begging for scrutiny. [OPV was not in the 1950s]  My thought too!

The bottom-line is that the vaccine debate is a subject divided between the witnesses of adverse events in their children, like myself, and those whom have not seen any. I was lucky because no one could say that something else paralyzed my son, in his case it was the tetanus toxin in his DPT shot lacking anti-toxin. Understand that many anti-vaxxers know what they saw and that is why they hold their ground, like my friend whose 3 year old had the immediate reaction of a seizure to the HepB shot right there in the clinic, and stopped talking.

Thus, either, vaccines are safe all the time or the risk is worth it, with the latter being more honest and already proven to millions of parents for whom the risk was not worth it, and no medals were handed out. At what point is someone allowed to consider the downside to injecting too much, too soon, and too many times? How can nothing go wrong when common knowledge admits everyone will react differently to the same drugs and the same microbes.

But I do want to thank Vincent for his brilliant comment on TWIV #16 at 23:40 mins, when he exercised the scientific method by saying: “I feel personally that there isn’t scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism, but ya know, this is a very complicated thing… it may be in a certain child under certain conditions with a certain genetic background it does something that we don’t understand at the moment. We have limits as to what we can do…”

I agree that we have limits as to what we can do, especially when scientists can’t find grants for negative research nor can they publish any negative findings. So, my question is this: As more vaccines are added to the schedule for children, at what point does one ask, “What could possibly go wrong?”

Do keep up the good work… I have listened to all your podcasts, every TWIV, TWIM, and TWIP, and have enjoyed them thoroughly!

Best regards, Allison

P.S.       By the way, polio vaccines do not cause autism. You should be happy to know that they’re not on the list. And, although the OPV can be problematic in children with weakened immune systems, because they can’t mount a  proper defense in the 24 hour window of time before the virus reverts to virulence, still, I like the OPV because it’s non-invasive, uses no adjuvants, and won’t leave children on the spectrum. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the IPV, because the body hates to be injected with phenol!

She sent:

Babies get 25 doses* within the first 6 months of life that are up to 3x their body weight**.

*Diphtheria (3x), HepB (3x), HIB (3x), Flu, Pertussis (3x), Polio (3x), Rotavirus (3x), Strep (3x), Tetanus (3x).  

** Newborns to 6 year old children get ‘Universal Doses’, which are One-Size-Fits-All and made for the oldest at 50lb. These shots are given to preemies at birth, despite their gestational immaturity.      

VRR: in the interest of accuracy, I must correct some misinformation in the letter above, lest it be used to propagate falsehoods about vaccines. There was no OPV in the 1950s. There is no phenol in IPV. Babies are certainly not given up to 3x their body weight in vaccines in the first 6 months of life. And the only vaccine give at birth is HBV; others begin  1 month later (see this schedule).

Monday, 01 May 2017 08:43

TWiV 439 Letters

Written by

Ajinkya writes:

Dickson was pretty awesome in twiv 438. No, really, he did !



Nadia writes:

Hi all in TWiV land,

Last Friday, I was glad to get to meet TWiV co-host Kathy Spindler for the second time when she gave a seminar and workshop during the Yale Science Journalism Symposium on Communicating Science. During one of the workshops, Kathy gave us exercises to help us practice communicating science. For one of the exercises, we had to describe our favorite protein and what it does in the first person. I chose the protein I am studying, which is an abnormal fusion protein in acute megakaryoblastic leukemia, so I naturally I acted like a villain! Kathy made it fun and I learned a lot about how to describe science in an accessible and clear way. Thanks Kathy!

An issue that arose during the symposium is that while we all can agree that science communication is important, some worry about the impact of being heavily involved in communicating science in the popular media will have on their career. Kathy made the point that I would like to echo, that active scientific communicators should be rewarded and not be penalized. To that, I would add that the success of TWiV, and the existence of a “TWiV bump”, is evidence of how valuable communicating science is; and how everyone should and CAN do it. Apart from communicating science, the TWiV co-hosts have created a community. The community of TWiV listeners from near and far, scientists to science-lovers, is a powerful force for science.

Thank you all and keep doing what you’re doing.


Daniel writes:

I am a recent graduate from Rockefeller University (from Paul Bieniasz lab) and our Paleovirology work was just published today in eLife (attached file). In this work we resurrected the envelope protein of a primate endogenous retrovirus and found that a copy of this envelope gene, present in the genome of humans, gorillas and orangutans, was most likely co-opted to combat similar retroviruses in the distant past (through a mechanism resembling receptor interference). I thought that you might be interested in this publication and I wanted to share it with you.

Hope you find it interesting

Have a great day

Daniel Blanco Melo, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Department of Microbiology

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Anthony writes:

sub-pick of AD’s pick?

Raspberry Pi™ 3 Model B Weather Monitor Kit

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