Linda writes:

Dear TWiV,

I received my PhD in microbiology in 1994, worked for a while and then somehow was out of the lab for 10 years taking some time off with my kids and developing and teaching online courses. The kids are older now and I really wanted to get back into research. I was lucky to find someone willing (or desperate enough) to give me a job in his lab and I started last month. It is a virology lab and I really knew nothing about viruses, having only worked with bacteria, so I was trying to find some basic virology information online. I feel like I hit the jackpot when I found TWiV through iTunes. During the first episode I listened to, Vincent mentioned his virology class at Coursera so I signed up for it. I really have learned a lot about viruses by listening to TWiV and taking the course. Thank you so much for making these materials available. I’ve also started listening to TWiM and TWiP and am enjoying those as well.

I am still teaching basic microbiology online. Our new term started the beginning of September and I have been including information about viruses during each week because I really find them fascinating.

Thank you again!

Suzanne writes:

The chocolate dipped candy Dickson mentioned is Pockey. I only know this because my husband’s comic book shop used to sell it. Sometimes I’ll see it in the international section of a large local supermarket. The shop still sells Pokemon, that’s a popular (and possibly somewhat addictive) collectible card game. Sounds like Alan already knows about that one. We’ve succeeded in keeping it away from our kids so far… Kind of hypocritical of us, I know.

On a totally random note, the students in my 10 year old’s class are giving reports on various fields of science and what the scientists do. My daughter picked virology. Mostly, I think, because I mention things from your podcast to her occasionally or have to explain jokes when I laugh at something you all have said. She came home from school the other day and said excitedly “Did you know the people who make This Week in Virology also have This Week in Microbiology and This Week in Parasitism? And did you know that blue egg shells are caused by a virus?!” I guess she’d googled up your blog! I don’t think she’ll end up in a career in science, she says right now that she wants to be a singer, but you are surely doing your part for keeping the rest of the laity interested in science. That’s a good thing, too!

Matthew writes:


My Spanish isn’t good enough to understand this:

– I wondered if you’d heard of this guy & what you think of his work ?

cheers, Matthew

Isabel Novella replies:

Hey Kathy,

I’ve never heard of this dude, but the University where he was teaching is very good. The institute where Esteban works is part of it. It seems he was unhappy and took early retirement, so this is his personal webpage. I haven’t read his papers and I’m going on the content of the webpage.

He claims that the neodarwinism is bullshit and there is no evidence that proves it. He is not anti-evolution, his main beef is that evolution doesn’t happen in small steps, but in big jumps. His model establishes bacteria as the main raw material for genes, and viruses as the mechanism to produce major changes, either by moving chunks of genetic information or by novel regulation of existing information. I think he is right in that these processes are happening and they are evolutionarily meaningful. He is in the same line of reasoning that claims that symbiosis is an argument against darwinism because once you become a partner you are not necessarily “the fittest.”

My own take is that neither claim is anti-darwinian in itself, or proof that the neodarwinist model is insufficient. Darwin never got into how you generate diversity, he started with the fact that there is diversity. We keep finding more and new ways to produce variation. That evolution goes in fits and jumps was proposed by Gould – darwinian, if there ever was one – several decades ago, the very famous punctuated equilibrium. At the end of the day two things matter: (a) what works and (b) what (if any) is the competition. The rest is time.

The point that I definitely did not like is that he claims that there is no proof or demonstration that darwinism works, and that is simply false. Really… (OK, assuming he doesn’t mean literally, because of course you cannot demonstrate anything, only that something is false, but that’s true for all hypotheses/theories).

I hope this helps!



PS- On the left bottom of the home page there is a thingy where you can choose the language.]

Robert writes:

Hello twiv hosts,

I just finished listening to episode 247 with Dr. Lipkin. When the show ended I immediately went to the EID paper and read the article. Paragraph 7 of the article contains the following: “A product…nucleic acid from a fecal pellet of a T. perforatus bat…showed a 100 nt identity…”. In the webcast between 11:15 – 11:20 Dr. Lipkin says that the sample was a fecal swab and not a fecal pellet. This exchange was prompted by Dr. Racaniello’s question about the nature of the sample. So was the sequence obtained from a rectal swab or a fecal pellet. I guess I’m nitpicking here and I am not sure it makes any real difference to the importance of the finding.

I am a retired biochemist/immunologist and after 3 years of my being around the house all day my wife suggested that I find something to do. I didn’t think that I wasn’t doing anything but then after 30 years of my being gone most of the day at work I will grant that I may have disrupted her routine. So being an academic at heart I decided to revisit calculus at my local JC. That was 6 years ago and I’m now 6 classes away from a B.S. in Applied Mathematics. This semester I am taking a breadth course “Principles of Gene Manipulation”. We’ve had two lectures and at least 10 minutes of each lecture have been taken up with questions that relate purely to vocabulary issues. I think that the authors of “Principles of Virology” are definitely on the right track with striving to avoid the use of jargon. I hadn’t thought much about this until now and I agree with Kathy about “proteins are expressed on the cell membrane”. I’ve asked a few of my friends what they think and we all come back to proteins are expressed on the cell surface. I suppose we could say that proteins are incorporated into the cell membrane but old ideas die a hard death.

I found Twiv when I started to take the Coursera Virology class. Love the class and the lectures and so does my wife. Looking forward to eventually listening to all of the Twiv episodes and the next issue.

Weather in Orange CA today was wonderful, clear skies, 77F, 25 C, Dew Point 52 F, Humidity, 47%, winds 5 – 10 mph SSW. A great day for a sail but alas class instead, 🙁 .


P.S. I have a copy of Dickson’s book on West Nile Fever and I was wondering if he would sign it for me?

P.S.S. Rich mentioned in one of the episodes something about the time frame for the unraveling of the actual DNA code. I would recommend anyone interested in the history of the discovery of the DNA code read the following: Leder, Z.P. and Nirenberg, M.W. (1964): “The Codewords and Protein Synthesis. III. On the Nucleotide Sequence of DNA Coding Units.” PNAS 54(6): 1521-1529.

I also have a very read, underlined, and annotated copy of: “1966: The Genetic Code. XXXI, Cold Harbor Symposium”. This volume contains a fantastic number of papers by the founders of Molecular Biology. Lots of great pictures too! Any large University or Medical School library should have a copy or two.

PMCID: PMC300480 PMID:14243527

Free PMC Article

Triplet codon article:

Jacque writes:

Dear Dr’s of TWIV and valued guests,

I have written previously but have not written recently so that I can give myself a chance to get caught up on the back episodes; up to 207 now! However, there are a couple of things that I don’t think could wait any longer.

The first is, due to the government shutdown the Pubmed saved search engine is sending out nonsense e-mails rather than my weekly update on what is new in my small realm of science. So, I wondered what else people use to keep up on the most recent articles in their fields that are not government run.

[ASM journal alerts eTOC and citetrack:

The second is, I know that TWIV tries to stay out of political issues, but I wondered if you could make an exception in this case and get someone on to talk about the ramifications this shutdown might have on the scientific machine, especially related to the NIH, but also to other areas of the government.

Now for the part that could have waited, but that I am going to talk about anyway, since I am already writing to you.

I have, as I said, been catching up on back episodes and a number of them of late (~25 episodes before 207) have discussed the evolutionary arms race between viruses and hosts, and the red queen hypothesis. I have wondered for a long time about the advent of modern medicine, and what effect it might have on the evolution of our species. Modern medicine is quite young in evolutionary terms, and evolution is very much about characteristics that will keep the population as a whole propagating. Modern medicine is very much about individuals surviving and propagating. Now, I am pro modern medicine, but I sometimes wonder about the broader implications this might have on our species in the long term. I wondered if the TWIV team would be able to comment on this.

The second thing I have wanted to write about and haven’t is a listener pick of the week. I have been using StumbleUpon now for several months and have found amazing sites that I would never have come across without it. Basically it is a website that you can subscribe to and then tell your interests, and then you push the stumble button and the site takes you to a random site in that area of interest. You can then let StumbleUpon know if you like the site, dislike the site, or want to save the site to your favorites. It then tries to learn what you enjoy so it can give you more of whatever that is. Warning: This can be a giant time sink if you like this kind of thing, but I find it very entertaining, and sometimes educational.

Jacque (pronounced like Jackie)

Graduate Research Associate

Peeples Lab

Center for Vaccines and Immunity

The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Bekah writes:

Greetings! I’m a high school Spanish teacher and I’ve been listening to your Podcasts during my commutes to work since 2011 (Twim, then twiv, then twip, each as I started running out of another) working my way from the first episodes to the present. At first I was listening in 1.5 speed, eager to catch up. Now, I’m kicking myself because I’m out of episodes by Tuesday each week (it would be Weds. if TWIP weren’t TMIP). I decided to look for some other podcasts to supplement the Twi’s. I remembered the sites I’ve heard about (Sciencepodcasters, for example) but found that those sites have gone under due to lack of time/funding. I tried listening to Mundo de Microbios, which has a lot of good information, but I’ve found that it just doesn’t simulate the conversations I found us having in the car. I am thus cordially looking for some advice on good podcasts to listen to from my lovely hosts or any other listeners. (To broaden the search, I can even listen in Spanish!) I find that at the end of a long day with high schoolers, I need to have some adult interaction, and strangely enough, that need is usually satiated by listening to your podcasts. Any ideas?

(You can read this on whichever of the Twi’s you choose. If you read it on TWIP, I’d like to make a strange inquiry. Vincent suggested using some sort of Cat urine barrier to keep out mice. Wouldn’t this just keep out the non-infected mice? Aren’t you thus inviting the infected ones to stay in your house, as they wouldn’t be scared off? Or perhaps any non-infected mice in your house would be afraid to leave! Curious if this was just my naive misunderstanding…)

Stephen writes:

The International Institute for Species Exploration site does not relate directly to viruses–if viruses aren’t alive, how can they have species? On the other hand, it’s eminently suitable as a science site pick, and it’s beautiful to boot.

Credit for my discovery of this site goes to Michael J. Novacek, Museum Provost of Science at the American Museum of Natural History, who cited this site in a Science Cafe talk on the AMNH Podcast.

Here’s a link for the AMNH podcast:

Here’s a link to the International Institute for Species Exploration home:

Finally, here’s a choice from the top-ten new species of 2013 that Vincent will appreciate, at least for its social-media connection:


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