Christopher writes:

Greeting TWiVologists!

It is currently a nice typical December day (73 degrees) here in San Antonio!
I’m just gonna jump right in here!

So, about the discussion on the sick sea stars, I have a few questions that just weren’t answered satisfactorily for me with this.

If it isn’t clear cut that all the sea stars that are sick have the virus, and if it isn’t clear cut that all the healthy don’t, why not? If the virus is present in the healthy and in the sick, but there are also sick ones without it, might that suggest that the Sea Stars were somehow immunocompromised and that the virus they found was simply opportunistic. It wasn’t clear to me that they controlled for this possibility. (I can’t possibly be the only one to suggest this, especially since there were so many authors on the paper. I wonder how this was ruled out?)

While I guess the weight of the evidence is toward this virus being the culprit, I would have loved to have seen some bases covered, or maybe just to have some answers for a few basic questions… How common is it for sea stars to have similar signs when sick? How did they rule out other causes of illness before filtering and sequencing? How common is this virus among non-sick specimens in the wild? Without that information and the small sample size how were able to determine that this correlation wasn’t merely a statistical fluke? How well were they able to control for contamination? If they’re just “blendering”, filtering and injecting, it could be any number of these small infectious viruses in that concoction. A bigger question is with that method is how are they controlling for contamination?

In general rolling with the idea of, “those that they found that are infected but healthy just aren’t sick yet” feels a bit, ummm… Shaky? “Special pleadingy”… hand wavy? I would have liked for them to have attempted to tie a nice bow around this.

To get around those holes, what are the options? Vincent suggested culturing and infecting out of the purified virus, that would be great, but in the absence of that what could they do?

Kathy suggested a second round of sequencing, but if you’re infecting them with an what was infecting the other stars, everything that infected the old ones should infect the new ones… And if you do this a few more times to be sure don’t you run the risk of attenuating or even just selecting non-naturally occurring traits that could possibly throw you off?

Well, I guess if it was a human virus it’d be easier to ask and answer these questions.

Are these questions naive? Are these even questions that virologist would ask? Or are there better questions that need to be asked? I am keenly interested in your perspective, I would love to someday be a virologist.

Robin writes:

Symptomatic echinoderms

I’d like to meet one….

The coelom

It is the body cavity rather than the gut.

In animals with three germinal layers (ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm), the coelom is formed within the mesoderm, separating the mesoderm into two layers, the somatopleure that goes with the ectoderm to form the musculoskeletal system, and the splanchnopleure that goes with the entoderm to form the musculature and connective tissues of the gut.

In humans, the coelom is divided up into the cavities of the pericardium, pleurae, peritoneum and the tunicae vaginales testes.

Next thing will be to to take samples from applicants for graduate and post graduate programs to check for chloroviruses.

And maybe there is a reason for Baltimorons. Intelligence tests for mice… Mickey Mouse?

Marc-Alexandre writes:

Hello to my favorite virologists!

Here in Quebec it’s 4°C/39.2F/277.15K today with some rain and big clouds… For this time of the year, it is really warm for us… In fact, we should have snow later this week because we have a type of storm which is coming and the temperature is below 0°C in the night. I could go skiing before December! Finally, for the number cruncher, we have a barometric pressure of 101.4 kPa with 14 km/h of wind from the West and 76% of humidity.

I’m a native canadian french speaker so please “Pardon my french”! I’m listening TWIV podcast since august because I was searching informations about the Ebola VIRUS outbreak (Yeah somebody said that when we use only Ebola we are talking about a river in Africa…) and I have loved it from the beginning. To introduce myself, I will say that I’m an 18 years old student from Quebec (I’m saying that because Mister Black&Yellow said that it was hard for you to know where the increasing listeners come from) and I’m studying in Natural Sciences at cegep. Here the cegep is the way to pass between high school and university. I think it’s the same thing as college in the Uncle Sam’s country. In my case, it is hard to find people around me with knowledge in virology, because I have physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology classes, but none of my teacher have a real training in this TWIV science…With this situation, I’m trying to find information where I can develop my interest in virology like with TWIV and the Society of General Microbiology Journals (when it’s free!!) and I can practice my English when I’m listening your podcasts! It’s way more interesting than the old episodes of Friends that I’m force to watch by my old English teacher! So in the next September, I would enter a university in microbiology. I took this decision because since my 9th grade, I was really interested in the micro-world. But, I think the human body is very nice to study so I will probably go in virology for my master and Ph.D. Maybe I will go to school who is presenting TWIV from the Big Apple (!?!?), because here in Quebec, virology isn’t very popular if I compare this to the Ph.D. in microbiology-infectiology-immunology. In fact, I really enjoy your Ebola Viruses special episodes and I have some points to join to them about this:

In my mind, we need BSL-4 and some money to work on a cure to Ebola virus that we have in Africa, but I think we should prepare for any virus outbreak that we can have after the Ebola one. With more money from the CDC, maybe scientists can find vaccines before we have any big cases in a human host. For sure, I think we need to work really hard on the vaccine (I would love to work on this!) but like you, I know the persons who are the most exposed are the health workers. I am suggesting to try to reduce the impact on those persons with some systems that we could install in the next years in preparation for another outbreak of any deadly virus. I have an idea and please give me your opinion on this project.

Every time I’ve listened TWIV episodes on Ebola, I was thinking that maybe we want to find a perfect solution too fast when we should try to work on what we control for now… All of those health workers who are infected in this outbreak are those on who we should care in trying to find a way to reduce the contact between body fluids of an infected person and the staff. In my head, because the Ebola virus is supposed to be destroyed by UV and probably by Hydrogen Peroxyde like it is used in BSL-4 labs to “kill” everything. Why don’t we design a new type of room in some hospitals (like the one who took the Ebola virus patient in Texas) with a negative pressure and a system that can disinfect all the fluids with Hydrogen Peroxyd in the gas form and some UV ultra-powerful lights to destroy all the microorganisms that could be there? After this procedure with nobody inside the room, someone could clean the mess without being scared of being exposed to the deadly virus/viruses. Because of the outbreak, we could use them to treat patients in the USA who contract the virus, but we could also use them like normal rooms in the emergency service when we don’t have any outbreak. In an easy way, the room would have some UV light with pipe for Hydrogen Peroxide in the gas form and a negative pressure so the patient who have an infected disease can’t really expose the staff in the hospital. Like I said, we could build them in the way that in case of another outbreak, we would be ready to take patients quickly in isolation. More than that, the room could be usually take for patient who need special immunosuppressive treatments and be less exposed to the environment. Maybe, if a case of tuberculosis or a more common disease that can be airborne/airspread make some people sick, we will have the chance to have emergency room fully equipped and ready to treat this type of thing. More than that, special teams should work one year to be ready for taking care of patient who have this type of disease… (They will know how to work in this environnment and how to take care of this patient without being dangerous for him or for their own life)

I don’t really know if (without the price consideration) this could be a way to prevent this type of disease from being so deadly and if it could protect the health workers from body fluids. Maybe, it won’t be a great investment, because the risks are not lower than a normal room with those infected patient. Please give me your feedback on this… To close my letter and to make a little pause of the Ebola episodes, I will enjoy to know how the rabies virus is travelling in the body of an infected patient? Because some of you said in one of the last podcast that somebody who got the virus, from a dog bite for example, can live up to a year without symptoms because the virus needs to go to the central nervous system in the brain to begin the real damage. But I don’t understand why it takes so much time for that virus to migrate from a bite to the brain… Does this virus travel in the lymph? In the blood? Does it follow the nerves? I hope you could help me with this thing because I found a little bit of information on the open-access scientific literature but like I love to say “Wikipedia, is Wikipedia”.

Thank you for your awesome podcast! I hope I will have the chance to talk to you in person in the next years or so!!!!!!!!!

Because I’m still a French speaker; « Je vous remercie pour l’ensemble de vos oeuvres et je dois dire que vous m’inspirez d’une très grande façon! »

Have a great winter,


Robin writes:

Thanks for the podcasts.

Especially the rabies and mumps episodes. Excellent insights.

Wish you were around before I retired in 2009.

Anne writes:

Dear Professors @TWiV,

I’m currently in an introductory epidemiology course on Coursera (Epidemics – the Dynamic of Infectious Diseases), and someone posted a question about the efficacy of flu vaccine, which has led to some discussion of the need for healthy people to get the vaccine. Another respondent pointed out that flu vaccine is said to be 60-70% effective, which I confirmed via Wikipedia. The original poster had this to say, in response to the info in Wikipedia (sorry to be attaching a screen shot — it was the easiest way to get his points across):

I responded that even at 35% (the quoted effectiveness of the seasonal flu), given the population size in the US, the reduction of the incidence of flu at that level likely has economic and social impacts — fewer sick people, fewer lost work days, lower healthcare costs, etc.

I know the TWiV team has talked about flu vaccine efficacy before, but could you speak to this again (or perhaps create a blog entry for it)? The thread also mentions that in the UK, only children and the elderly (the “at-risk” population) are encouraged to get flu shots, which is different from US policy. Would appreciate hearing your comments about this, too.

Many thanks,

PS An update to my earlier note: I found your blog post, which responds to the same Lancet article that the OP in the Coursera discussion did. You seem to share the same views, although Alan Dove’s critique of the Lancet findings is good, too. As we enter the flu season, perhaps reposting the links to your and Alan’s blog entry might begin to show casual readers how even scientists can disagree (also part of the process of science) about these kinds of studies.


Ayesha writes:

I wonder if you guys had heard of this Postdoc initiative in Boston. I am peripherally involved in supporting and offering ideas. We hope to continue building momentum in bringing postdocs to the table when reforms are negotiated.

Abe writes:


I just started binge-listening to all the episodes of TWIV and TWIP from the beginning.
These are great! As an interested scientist in a completely different field, I wanted to ask:

TWiV: Are there “archea-phage” viruses? Are there prions for archea?


Clark writes:

Dear TWIV,

Long time listener but glad you’re finally moving on from Ebola.

My original background is actually physics, not chocolate making. Way back in the 90’s physics moved to putting papers online for free at the Los Alamos Physics Repository which is now Today it’s rare not to find papers in the preprint repository. It has been an overwhelming success and, I think, has aided the evolution of ideas in physics.

Other fields have moved in the same direction. For instance handles biology papers. For some subfields like evolution or genomics do very well posting papers here. Other fields such as neurology seem to do poorly. I hope you can perhaps use your bully-pulpit to push for microbiologists to use this resource. For physics often even papers published in prominent journals end up at arxiv whereas for too much biology it seems like the papers are not seen unless their library carries the journal. This is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is access by the public to the research they typically are paying for through their taxes. It also goes against the spirit of science which requires open communication.

Thanks for your consideration. I’m sure, from past discussions you’ve had, that you are proponents of open journals. I’d just point out that in physics and related disciplines they’ve gone much farther to the point that it is the standard.

Johyne writes:

Gentle Folks,

Wonder if Alan Alda knows about TWiV? See below.

They offer improvisation, a course you and your fellow, TWiVisians (rhymes with Nevisians, the adjective form for Nevis) could easily offer and teach.

Johnye Ballenger, M. D., FAAP
West Cambridge Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Fernando writes:

Maybe this is too political for TWiV, but it really nails the perennial issue of fear-mongering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment on “TWiV 316 letters