Nathan writes:

Dear Vincent, Elio, Michele & Michael,

Thank you all for the wonderful podcast!  It’s a great gift to humanity and science communication.  It would be great if you could discuss the really interesting paper by Din et al recently published in Nature.  TWiV listeners know about viral-based anti-cancer therapies and successes such as Amgen’s T-Vec.  Now here’s a bacterial based approach.

Keep on podcasting.

Nathan in Chapel Hill

Cindy writes:

Hi TWiMmers,

I’m finally writing to say how much I enjoy your podcast after a year of listening. I was just listening to the latest episodes for a while because I’m lazy and you have years of podcasts to go through… but you weren’t updating fast enough to satiate my appetite. I have been going through your feed for the last couple of weeks (while still listening to the latest updates) and cannot believe the goodies I’ve been missing out on! I considered #11 to be my favorite until I listened to #131 just today. I try to take anything about the microbiome with a grain of salt, as Elio suggests, but find myself picking my jaw off the ground after each episode that focuses on it. The way you TWiMers present the data and explain the experiments (either good or bad) make them easy to understand for us laymen/women. I knew nothing about bacteria other than there are really gross ones in bathrooms until this last year when I decided to go back to school for a marketing degree and fell in love the first time I looked through a microscope. I’m 27, a first year college student, mother of one, starting a career in Microbiology from scratch and still can listen to your podcast with some understanding because of how well you present it. Every episode I listen to keeps me hungry for more and so intensely curious about the world that is all around us and is so vitally important, as we continue to find out, that I sometimes finish an episode almost giddy with excitement over the work that is being done. Episode #131 is one of those episodes. Thanks for taking the time to spread the good word that is science and thanks for keeping it accessible.

Keep up the good work!

Steve writes:

Hi Microbies,

A research snippet mentioned in this week’s Lancet, prompts me to get in touch with a couple of questions I’ve been meaning to run by the team:

Firstly: I’ve been wondering, while reading and hearing of all the remarkably technological work going into characterising the gut microbiota by brute force processing, why I never hear of ‘gut gas fingerprinting’, as a more simple method of characterising the makeup and activity/health of both the microbiota, and the host?

It seems to me, that a ‘cheap and cheerful’‎ GCMS readout from a fresh faecal sample, could actually prove to be a very useful diagnostic and research tool–particularly so, if trace gas composition could be associated with particular microbial communities and disease conditions. Maybe microbiome researchers should routinely do GCMS on their samples when they do their PCR etc: it could reap great rewards as the data mounts up.

This actually struck me, when I was listening to Dickson discussing the ‘foul smelling diarrhoea’ associated with Giardiasis: most people probably think that all faeces smell foul, so how is the patient to describe degrees of foulness? This could be quite important to me, as I am disabled by severe bloating in combination with severe cramping in the small intestines, but, there seems to be no way on offer from doctors, to find out what is going on, other than occult blood tests and x-rays that show nothing.‎ Colon checks out OK, but what of the rest?

I’ve had breath tests that were indicative of overgrowth, but not of what by (This did not respond to penicillin antibiotics.).  At the same time ‘normal’ bowel movements can give off a powerful, almost petrochemical/mercaptan odour, which, most certainly is foul.   It seems to me, that routine GCMS‎ fingerprinting, could remove the uncertainties associated with describing odours, and be a valuable aid to diagnosis and identification of problems in hard to reach places.

The article that reminded me to ask about this, was actually on the issue as to whether, or how much, microbial gases ‘control us’‎ by the production of ‘gasotransmitters’, so it looks as if gas and trace gas analysis could determine good biomarkers for all manner of purposes.  

Come to think of it, I do remember that someone was trying to develop an ‘artificial nose’ for detecting disease states in similar manner to the dogs that we hear of that can smell skin cancers. So gas/VOC sampling, both internal and external, surely should be getting at least as much attention from microbiologists as whole microbiome DNA, proteome, etc. sequencing?

What do you think?

Secondly: I’ve been listening to your various conversations on hand washing and ‎the problems attendant on trying to control spread of infections. I’ve been meaning to ask two things:

1: How the heck does anyone clean under fingernails, when most bathrooms do not seem to contain nail brushes, and the brushes available in shops become like the one in the attached picture, very quickly?  The only way I’ve ever really got my nails clean was with a high pressure flat jet on the garden hose–which is not really practical indoors. Perhaps there is scope for some kind of bathroom jet nail cleaner? Or an entire rethink of the bathroom basin to make it an enclosed device for jet-sterilising hands only.

2: For Michael:  As a child, I remember being, frequently, told to wash my hands after handling money (which in those days meant big coins), because ‘you don’t know where it’s been’. Despite this, most kids would have a few big copper coins in their pockets, most of the time, and be continually handling them with sweaty fingers (Especially holding them still while running!).   

Children, and a good many parents, would have had copper, silver, and brass in appreciable concentrations in the sweat of their hands, almost all the time.‎ Far from being agents of disease spread, it seems likely that the universal use of copper and silver coinage must have played a big part in the prevention of disease spread.

(Actually, a lot of people don’t even seem to like pockets these days, so that might be another confounding factor I hadn’t considered. Perhaps the answer is to make mobile phone covers of copper: phones rarely leave most people’s hands?)

In addition to this, there was pretty much universal use of copper and brass for door handles, hand rails, curtain rails, door push plates, pots and pans, keys and locks…   We were constantly charging ourselves up with microbe killers wherever we went, and this was obvious from the beautiful sheen/patina on ‘public metal’‎ created by the touch and sweat of many thousands of hands.   How quickly those coins went dull and green when left at the back of drawers…   (How easy it is to recall the taste of copper! My mouth waters at the thought! I wonder if today’s children know that taste?)

So, it seems quite plausible to me, that the switch to paper and plastic money and electronic transactions, and away from the best metal in the coinage that remains, coupled with the near disappearance of decent metal door and window ‘furniture’‎, bathroom plumbing, and handrails, could be the single most contributive cause of the modern spread of diseases, by contact.

What does the team think?

Your very good health.





At a sticky 24C, as it’s better than opening windows and letting mozzies in!  (Ooh: Which reminds me: Why do they have 6 legs when they only use 4?  🙂 )

Leave a Reply

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

One comment on “TWiM 134 letters