Rafik writes:

Hi guys,

I’m a fan. I like Nels work in particular, ever since the Malik lab, I remember meeting you at a GRC in Easton a few years ago.

I did not know Vincent before, i must shamefully admit, but i’m amazed by the scientific and communication work!!!

I’ve started spreading this podcasts among my Evo friends but also non scientists, which has been a gateway to the other TWi podcasts :). I was mindblown by the ant stuff you presented in the last one!!

I work on the evolution of molecular innovation, and with my former advisor Diethard Tautz (MPI for Evolutionary Biology in Germany) , we’re having a paper out next week in nature eco evo on the effects of random sequences in E. coli cells, and the implications of this in the field of de novo gene birth, but also seems to be of broader relevance for pharmaceutical and biotechnology developments.

We basically transformed a population of cells with random sequences and had them compete while expressing them to show which ones had good, bad or neutral effects for their growth. It has been my favorite story so far, and I’m really proud to finally put it out there!

Curiosly, with Joanna Masel (from UArizona), we’re having another paper in the same journal about how of all possible new genes that can be born, only those matching certain conditions seem to ever make it. That is totally a coincidence since those were completely independent projects that started around different times. The main point of that paper is that de novo gene birth does not follow a smooth transition from non-genes to genes, but it’s more like a quantum leap, based on disorder predictions.

I’d like to know if this is interesting enough to you guys to feature at some point. They are coming out this upcoming wednesday, but I can provide you with copies ahead of publication.

Thanks for spreading good science and keep up the good work!

Big up from New York!

– Rafik

Dr. Rafik Neme

Evolutionary Biologist

Postdoctoral Researcher

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics

Columbia University Medical Center

New York, NY, USA


Anthony writes:

In the audio on the protozoan Toxoplasma available here


an experiment is mentioned where an attempt was made to determine if there was a correlation between the parasite and people’s perception of cat urine.  There was — but only for men.  So, as it stands now, there’s no established connection between Toxoplasma and what were described as “crazy cat ladies.”

(Tangentially, though audio can still be accessed at the Link, the formatting in the Page is mangled.  I’ve tried to bring that to the attention of ASM, but the Page still looks strange.  Perhaps you might know who to mention it to?)

It’s believed that Toxoplasma affects mice so that it’s easier for cats to catch them.  It’s believed that Baylisascaris by killing small animals this roundworm makes it easier for raccoons to catch them.  ((BTW, in the two preceding sentences, “them” can be understood as either the prey or the parasite.)

Might the various mosquito-borne ills, through virulence, make it more difficult for people to prevent the insects from biting?

In Alice in Wonderland one side of the the Caterpillar’s mushroom enlarged and the other side shrank.  Might there in some cases be a Caterpillar’s Mushroom pattern in the triangular interactions between two hosts and a parasite?  In one host — the predator — ,virulence diminishes.  It the other host — the prey — virulence increases or there’s some other effect that makes it easier for the predator.  In the prey, there’ll be the Red Queen.  Will the predator host tend to change to accommodate — run to instead of away from — the parasite?

I might be wrong about the cat urine experiment being mentioned in the ASM audio.  It is featured in this Youtube video:


Aleksandra writes:

Dear Nels and Vincent,

First of all, I must write that the two of you have planted an “evolution” seed in my mind. I am an undergraduate in immunology but came from chemistry background and have never took a course on evolution. I have been studying biology for three years now but have completely failed to realize how fascinating evolution is. Several factors contributed to my recent awakening and realization that evolutionary biology is amazing but TWiEVO has undoubtedly played a major role (I was completely sold after the episode with Dr. Hopi Hoekstra).

Now to my question. A bit of a background – I am a final year undergraduate student of Immunology. I have been accepted to a graduate program in immunology and am currently thinking about what I would like to study. I will be able to do three rotations and so I am trying to identify faculty that are doing interesting work. Before, I haven’t thought much about the evolutionary processes behind immunological phenomenon but, as I seem to have caught an evolution bug recently, I would like to learn a bit more about this.

My question to you is – do you know of any professors at Harvard that are interested in evolutionary immunology or are currently doing research that is somewhat related to how immunological mechanisms evolved. As I have said, I am very new to the field (and the short descriptions and previous papers often do not reflect what a given PI is currently working on) and so it’s a bit hard to identify faculty who would be interested in such problems. For instance, one question that comes to mind (especially as interest in neuroimmunology has been on the rise recently) is why and how neuro- and immune systems co-evolved (which seems to be the case). There is some work done on this but I haven’t seen many papers.  I know I have to do much more reading as I don’t have more specific questions in mind (yet). However, I thought that maybe the two of you would know of scientists in Boston who are doing some evolutionary immunology work.

In any case, again, I love the show. Vincent – you are veteran in science podcasting so it goes without saying that you are amazing at it. But Nels – I guess during one of the first episodes Vincent mentioned that when he met you he knew you would be great at this. And he was 100% spot on. Thanks a lot for your great efforts (though wish it was actually this week rather than this month – not complaining though ).


The University of Edinburgh

Mike writes:

Hi there, I’ve been going back and listening to the archived episodes since I found this podcast, and really enjoying some of the episodes. The question that was asked in #9 by Alex about genes which modulate the distribution of phenotypes (sort of a “metagene”) reminded me of a great paper about exactly that in bacterial motility, which I’ve attached. Please feel free to forward it to Alex. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27994041


Michael writes:

Hello Nels and Vincent

I thought I would share a video that Julie Theriot made about 20 years ago where she talks about her decision to go into science and explore the wonder and awe of it all. I found it very inspirational, especially the part of how slime moulds can go from a unicellular organism to a multicellular like worm. I was familiar with her work and that of other great scientists (including your guest Hopi Hoekstra) through iBioSeminars and highly recommend that resource also.

Keep up the great podcast.

Mike in Oregon


Matt writes:

Greetings from Jena, Germany! I am sure you hear this sentiment a lot, but I have really been enjoying the TWiEVO podcast. In the most recent episode with Jonathan Weiner, you all touched on the idea that scientists don’t spend enough time just thinking or chatting science over dinner. Perhaps it is not a fair comparison, but I think your podcast is a way for those of us stuck in the lab to get a bit of a dose of that conversation. I do agree that we all need to spend a bit more time thinking outside the laboratory box though. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for the excellent podcast.



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