Tim writes:

Hey TWiV team!

Just finished listening to TWiV 229. Although I’ve been a TWiV, TWiP, and TWiM listener for a while now, this is the first time I’ve listened to any of the TWiX podcasts in the week it was actually recorded!

While listening to Rich Condit’s comments on how those involved in monitoring the H7N9 virus are doing a good job walking a fine line between unnecessarily overhyping and downplaying the risk of a pandemic, the name Bernardo De Bernardinis came immediately to mind. De Bernardinis and seven other scientists were charged with manslaughter – not because they failed to predict an earthquake that killed over 300 people, but because they downplayed the probability of a major earthquake around the time that L’Aquila was hit, and were therefore found liable for the deaths because they had unduly reassured the public. Those charged with the job of predicting the next flu pandemic must be acutely aware of this incident, and as a result I don’t blame them for being non-committal in anything that they say. Can any good come to a scientist who makes definitive predictions to the general public? If a more nuanced prediction was made, all subtlety would likely be lost to the ether that is mainstream science reporting (This is one of the many reasons the world needs TWiV).

As I’ve mentioned in letters to both TWiP and TWiM (which are lost in the queue somewhere I imagine), thanks for all of your time and effort dedicated to bringing your scientific insights to the rest of us.

– Tim

Kathryn writes:

Hello Twivers. I have a question about the Hela cell lines. Recently, a “reference” genome was published. While I think it should have not been done without consultation with the family, that boat has left the dock.

Vince’s story about his two batches of hela cells (one making nice flat monolayers, the other not) made me think. If two lines behave so differently, how can anyone claim to publish a reference genome. What is to stop Vince – after talking to the family, of course – to take his batch of hela cells, sequence it, and say “Here, a reference genome for hela cells”.

I fail to see how cells that are grown indefinitely don’t pick up random mutations. Especially when those cells initially came from cancerous cells.

To make my point more clear maybe. How can a constantly evolving cell line that is in use in 10s or 100s of labs, all with different properties have a reference genome.

Thanks for reading the ideas that come to me at night.

Kathryn in Korea.

PS: It’s rainy and 52F

Kathy Spindler writes:

There is some literature about lactoferrin in tears being antiviral (against rotavirus, enterovirus, and Ads), and for adenovirus it’s reviewed in the attached publication (PMID 18718499). Intriguingly, some Swedish researchers showed that some Ad types (Ad5) under certain conditions co-opt Lf and use it as a bridge to enter the cell (work of Niklas Arnberg, PMID 17079302). But if Lf concentration was high, the excess Lf appeared to reduce binding of virus to the cell. Johansson et al. suggest that maybe the Lf binds to either virions or cells but not both, and thus at high concentrations the bridging may not occur. They suggest that the high concentration of Lf in tears is protective against Ad infection in the eyes, where the concentration is high, but maybe Lf promotes infection in saliva where the concentration is low. (Lf is present in mucosa and most body fluids). Lf may also have the capacity to promote infection by other viruses (HTLV-1, by transactivating the LTR).

sent: Biochimie 91 (2009) 35e43 Role of lactoferrin in the tear film.

Clif writes:


Regarding your on-going discussion on vaccinations, here is my argument when the other person knows me well enough to know I am not serious. After exhausting the list of arguments in favor of vaccination, I like to respond “well, we have to limit the population somehow, and I am vaccinated.” Unfortunately it is no more effective than any other argument since their response is usually a story about how they know a vaccinated person who still got the “stomach flu.” And apparently I cannot convince them the “stomach flu” is not influenza.


Ashley writes:

Hello professors! Just want you to know you have a huge undergraduate fan from China. I’m always very interested in virology and immunology and would like to pursue them in my future study. I remember you have talked about coronavirus the other day, and since it’s been 10 years when SARS struck the world especially China, I would love to know more details about this history. As far as I remember the disease broke out during the Chinese Spring Festival in 2003 and the first case happened pretty near to my home city Guangzhou. It was a tough time for everyone when we (I was a kid then) were told not to get out and talk to others and I heard people dying in hospitals in the city. But some time later the virus just disappeared and it seems like it never came back. I’ve heard from my virology professor that scientists at that time were working hard on this virus, but it disappeared so that they had nothing to push them keep on working. I’m wondering if there were any specific measures taken at that time in addition to washing our hands and avoid going to crowded places? And if there is any chance the virus might come back, or is it gone like smallpox?



Life Sciences College

Zhejiang University

Hangzhou, China

Lisa writes:

Dear Twiv team,

While listening to a recent episode I heard a request for a short video to use in response to vaccine doubters. Here is my favourite one for flu:


I am looking forward to meeting Dr. Racaniello at the Microbiology Student Group symposium at UC Berkeley in a few weeks!



Dave writes:

How i came to be a TWIV listener:

Science360 radio on TuneIn internet radio (remarkably loaded with content from down under and up north – leaving US looking stunted, relatively). Purely serendipitous encounter, as I don’t systematically search. Worth recommending to others. You guys totally engage me in all three TWIs. Much fun. Thanks.

Retired RN. Partly trained medical anthropologist. Fully trained child-adolescent-adult clinical psychologist. Too scientifically-minded to be content clinician; too poorly disciplined (ADD) to be professional academic scientist, to which I’d otherwise have aspired. Irrepressibly curious about the natural way things work (info flow about which is my salvation). (Grad school time spent in lounge reading Science and whatnot rather than tending to business — find I need psychomotoric activation in order to function well, and can’t sit still for academic responsibilities, making nursing viable.)

I have no regular productive activity. Isolated. I have only dated bonehead education in micro detail, but find it easy to follow your conversations.. Thanks, because I keep on learning, which is my primary value. Would do something to hang with and assist somebody if enticed (eg can critically edit written material.)

Now have forgotten how your discussion of your podcast inspiration prompted my little spate of applause and self-disclosure here, but glad you’re doing your public bit.



Marianne writes:

Hi TWIV team

I’ve been listening to TWIV (and now TWIM and TWIP) for a while, and every episode I feel inspired to write in with a comment on the show. I’m finally getting around to it.

I feel like I am a virologist by association. I have a PhD in Immunology, but I was fortunate to receive some amazing postdoctoral training in the lab of Dr. Grant McFadden, just prior to his move to UF. I have had the pleasure of meeting Rich on several occasions so hearing him on the podcast is almost like chatting with an old golfing buddy. I went to work with Grant to study how poxviruses manipulate the host immune system, but quickly was steered into his then new project studying the oncolytic properties of myxoma virus. I then spent the next 7 years studying poxviruses and how they are able to infect and kill cancer cells, during two very challenging and interesting postdoc positions. Clearly on the ‘academic track’, I then took an alternative path, a position as a scientist in a small biotech here in Canada that focuses on vaccine development.

In the past year or so that I’ve been listening to TWIV, I’ve often wanted to comment on topics such as postdoctoral training, “alternative” careers in science, the correct pronunciation of Factor X (TEN not EX, that one had me grumbling all day), and oncolytic viruses. However, the one nearest and dearest my heart is the ongoing challenges of vaccine development and its perception by the general public.

In a way I may have a unique perspective. Since taking on my current position I’ve also welcomed my first child. I have spent a lot of time in the company of other new parents, and invariably vaccines has been a frequent topic of conversation. It’s amazing how fast all of the myths surrounding vaccinations appear, and I feel compelled as a ‘scientist’ armed with facts to debunk these myths. Let me say that it is an ongoing challenge, but one that is worth the effort. I try to provide parents (those who either ask for my opinion, or those who impart clearly false information as ‘fact’ to other parents) with unbiased information from reputable, peer reviewed sources. Needless to say, I’ve been accused of ‘pushing the pharma agenda’ a couple of times. However, many parents, especially parents of children with chronic conditions who are at higher risk of contracting serious disease appreciate someone who is passionate about the advantage of vaccines. I commonly recommend “The Panic Virus” as a reference to anyone who wants to learn more. And, as anecdote is a surprisingly strong tool, I commonly tell people that I understand all the risks and benefits of vaccines intimately, and my own child is fully vaccinated, on schedule.

I think this all harkens back to a very good point brought up in the last TWIV, regarding the ‘certainty’ in which anti-vaccine ‘advocates’ speak about the dangers of vaccination. It is a very clever ploy, because they understand that this is exactly counter to how scientists speak about science. They precipitate this perception among the ‘non-science’ public is that this careful way scientists describe findings is because scientists either don’t know the ‘correct’ answer, or they are hiding something. This facilitates the disconnect with the public who may believe that science is a collection of ‘facts’ rather than a collection of ‘findings’ that require careful and thoughtful interpretations; interpretations that may change based on the next set of findings.

A part of the solution to this rests squarely on the shoulders of scientists themselves. Science outreach is so important, and I know I’m preaching to the choir on this one, as pod-casts such as this one do so much to make science accessible to all. However, the importance of being a good science communicator (especially the talent of being able to communicate your science to a non-specialist audience) is rarely taught and not nearly as valued as it should be. Here in Canada, as I’m sure there are in many other countries, there are wonderful outreach organizations. The one I am most familiar with is Let’s Talk Science (http://www.letstalkscience.ca/) and organization I’ve been involved with since I was a graduate student. These programs teach graduate students to be comfortable with science as they share their knowledge and enthusiasm to school aged children. I have said many times, much to the chagrin of colleagues, that if you can’t explain your research to a 10 year old, you don’t understand it well enough. The idea of stepping away from terminology and jargon and getting to the fundamental questions isn’t easy, and it takes practice, but it is so important. As our science advances and becomes increasingly technical and abstract, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that much of that science is paid for by public funds and they need to understand its importance. Controversies around vaccination, a practice that has been saving countless lives since the time of Jenner, is only the tip of the iceberg.

On the topic of science literacy, I do have a pick for you. The Cold Spring Harbor Lab Press has a series of 4 children’s books known as the “Enjoy your Cells” series. It includes “Enjoy your Cells”, “Have a nice DNA”, “Gene Machines” and “Germ Zappers”. I received “Germ Zappers” when my son was born, and although the text is a little over his head at 20 months old, my 6 year old niece loves the book and it is required reading every night she is visiting. She has learned a lot about the cells of the immune system, what sort of ‘germs’ exist and the value of vaccination, including a special mention of vaccination against polio. Science literacy starts early! A link to these books can be found here:


Keep up all the great work and I’ll be listening every week, all the way to the end, just in case there is a small Easter egg thrown in.

Cheers to all,


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