Stephen writes:

A Planet of Viruses reviewed by Michael Emerman

A sample:

> It’s a very easy 2-hour read for anyone with a minimum amount of biology (say, high school level). It is, however, a maddening book to read for someone who teaches virology because of the abundance of big and small mistakes throughout. For example, measles virus and smallpox, not influenza and smallpox (page 67), were likely responsible for the Native American deaths after contact with Europeans [3]. Cervical cancer is bad, but it is not the third-leading cause of death among women (page 25). It’s not even the third-leading cause of cancer deaths among women (colorectal cancer claims that mantle) [4]. RNA is not the single-stranded version of DNA (page 91); they have different structures and properties. The explanation of how HIV causes AIDS is both confused and outdated (page 57)…

>Michael Emerman is a Member in the Divisions of Human Biology and Basic Sciences at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington


Stephen writes:

Following up yet again on the term “protozoa,” “Protozoa” was a term I heard back in the ’60s, to refer to single-celled organisms that were animal-like, which is to say that they swam freely, didn’t have chloroplasts and ate their food. (Except that some of them do have chloroplasts.)

The term “protist” makes no such distinction, but is just a term for (mostly) single-celled organisms.

This Wikipedia article seem pretty good to me <> .

“Currently, the term protist is used to refer to unicellular eukaryotes that either exist as independent cells, or if they occur in colonies, do not show differentiation into tissues.[10] The term protozoa is used to refer to heterotrophic species of protists that do not form filaments. These terms are not used in current taxonomy, and are retained only as convenient ways to refer to these organisms.”

I don’t know exactly how modern biology textbooks deal with this.

Neal writes:

Dear Vincent,

I am a loyal TWiV listener and huge fan, but today I’m writing with a small correction. About 38 minutes into TWiV 220, you mention that Aviron tried but failed to develop an engineered influenza vaccine and ended up licensing and marketing Maassab’s cold-adapted (CA) strains instead because they “couldn’t come up with something on their own”. I couldn’t help but respond since that was my project for a couple years – to engineer (I’ll refrain from using the “R.G.” terminology!) an infectious, safe and immunogenic master donor strain for influenza A. The details are actually interesting – it gets into genetic stability of attenuated viruses, how viruses are much more adaptable than we think, and ways to get around that (see – but the reality is that the CA strain was made available for licensing right around the time that my engineered strains were being considered for advancement into the clinic. For several reasons, some of them business-related, the company decided to license the CA strains, and this then instantly became their lead product, eventually becoming what is marketed as FluMist today. The engineered flu vaccine program then evolved into an attempt to fill the niche where the CA vaccine doesn’t work as well, which meant primarily targeting the elderly (FluMist doesn’t work great in the elderly because they have more cross-reactive immunity from multiple previous infections/vaccinations). However the challenge of balancing safety and immunogenicity in this population was significant, and eventually the company decided to terminate the project. I worked on PIV3 for a while but eventually left to join a company working on HIV drug resistance diagnostic assays – where the theme of adaptability is also highly relevant (at some point I’ll write about another pet peeve, predictions that some new antiviral will be resistance-resistant because it targets the host not the virus, but not now). Anyway, I’m trying not to be overly defensive, but I do think that the choice of words was unfortunate. Aviron did come up with something on their own, but the CA strains became available and had already been in clinical trials and so “leap-frogged” the internally developed candidates. Your mentor Peter Palese, who was on the SAB of Aviron while I was there, can certainly give you more details about this than I can. In fact the long and winding story of the development of FluMist might make for a good topic for TWiV one day.

Thanks to you and the crew for the great service you provide. I consider myself a TWiV evangelist and tell anyone who is interested to listen as well whenever I get the chance.

Best regards


PS – listener pick of the week:

Neil writes:

Dear Vince et al

Just wanted to suggest an alternative to Survey Monkey, that you were discussing in a recent episode. I’ve used it now and then but have mostly moved over to Google docs, where you can create a form and have the responses go straight to a spreadsheet. As far as I know there is no limit to the number of responses you can collect. I use it to help manage the recreational ice hockey league I run (that John Boothroyd, previous guest on TWIP, also plays in!). You can split the form up into multiple pages, have users directed to certain pages based on their responses, and so on. Plus you can share the online results spreadsheet with whoever you choose, transfer to Excel, etc.

Love the podcast, one of these days I’ll get caught up so I can email about my questions about the most recent one and have them read on the one after – but for now I’m too far behind! If you ever feel like interviewing someone who has had academic training, biotech industry experience, a short stint at public health (at WHO) and now is an independent consultant (talk about “alternative” careers in science!) I’d be thrilled to do it. I’ve worked on influenza, HIV, and HCV in the vaccines, antivirals, and diagnostic assay areas.



Ricardo writes:

Hello TWIV gang, the ones who make their listeners wiser so they keep coming for more. 🙂

Just another example of parasites controlling the behaviour of their hosts.

My best regards.

Ricardo Magalhães

Univ. Fernando Pessoa

Parasites Make Their Hosts Sociable So They Get Eaten

Ricardo writes:

Hello TWIV gang. First page on one of our local newspapers

Ricardo Magalhaes, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Microbiology


Faculty of Health Sciences of Fernando Pessoa University


David writes:

Dear Vincent Racaniello, Dickson D. Despommier, and everyone else at TWiV,

I am a biochemistry student at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, and for my virology class, our professor has been assigning us to listen to your podcast every week. And so once a week, I have been going for long walks in the nearby woods while listening to your podcasts. But I wanted to know if you could discuss a topic I came across while surfing the internet: the use of engineered viruses to fight cancer cells (link below). Would it be possible to discuss the biological mechanisms behind the engineered virus fighting the cancer cells (while boosting the body’s own immune response to the cancer cells)? What are the key differences between the engineered viruses versus natural viruses? Given how specific the viruses attacked the tumor cells, this definitely opens a whole new world to cancer treatment, and possibly even the treatment of other diseases.

Thanks so much,



Monica writes:


Just a quick message to let you know I love your podcast. Keep it up. There is valuable information to share.



Ann writes:

Hi TWIV crew,

I am a graduate student in Virology with an eager interest in science communication and advocacy.

I would love to draw everyone’s attention to a new campaign ‘Ask for Evidence’, that was launched in Boston last week (spring-boarding off the AAAS conference).

As brief background: The UK-based nonprofit group Sense about Science ‘equips people to make sense of science and evidence on issues that matter to society’. They run several campaigns to raise public interest and even activism in several fields – see their website for details: A few ambitious young scientists have brought the ‘Ask for Evidence’ campaign to the US.

The goal is to encourage the public to be skeptical of the claims they hear in advertisement, the media, and in politics. The website provides support for inquisitive minds – how to phrase a request for evidence, how to evaluate an evidence that is provided (for example, is it published? peer reviewed?), and a supportive community to help follow through with holding the company (or media outlet or politician) accountable.

Think of the folks curious about home remedies, “detox” treatments, and dietary supplements.

Think of patients with chronic diseases, with no treatment options remaining, trying to sort through the myriad ‘miracle cures’ advertised online.

Not only money, but time and human health are on the line.

It is critical for the public to understand the scientific evidence – or lack thereof – that supports consumer products, policy, and so forth. And an alert and proactive public will promote a culture of accountability. I’m excited to see scientists and lay skeptics stepping up to lead this movement.

Thanks for the consideration.

And as always I send my sincere appreciation for the wonderful work you share with us all!

best wishes,


PhD Candidate – Gehrke Lab

Harvard Program in Virology

Ken writes:


I stumbled upon this article early today (3/4/2013) and remembered that you guys talked about the eradication of viral diseases (specifically HIV) through prevention when Dr. Anthony S. Fauci was on the show. The article talks about the first case of cured HIV through the use of an aggressive treatment in an infant by bombarding the infant’s system with antivirals.

Will this kind of treatment be viable for the eradication of the virus if all babies born with HIV were to be treated with this method?

Could there be any kind of complications if this method was used to eradicate the virus?

What do you think of this method?

I am a high schooler in California and, sadly, not much of an avid listener of TWiV simply because I do not have enough time to listen to most of the broadcasts. However, I do, in fact, love TWiV as it gives me more knowledge on virology and medicine than the high school curriculum does and will definitely catch up on episodes after I am granted my freedom. 🙂

Thank You,


Trudy writes:

Dear TWiVers,

I’m a little behind on my episodes and was listening to TWiV 218 on my way to work this morning. I apologize if this has already been addressed, but after hearing about the little episode with Welkin and his daughter’s flu inoculation in the eye, as well as the discussion about the possibility of infection through the mucosa of the eye, I looked up some of the publications of a friend of mine at the CDC. Please see below. Of course, these studies are in ferrets and by now we all know very well that ferrets are not human.

Kind Regards,


Shane writes:

Hi Rich et. al,

I am catching up on all the TWIV/TWIP/TWIM podcasts and I am still quite far behind, but a couple of months ago started from TWIV#1 and am following in date order. I love all of them and am not looking forward to the day I will need to slow down and listen at a more leisurely pace.

In TWIV #133 You mentioned that biological control methods are doomed and Dick agreed with you. The Cactoblastus moth was introduced into Australia to control the spread of the Prickly pear and although it hasn’t eradicated the plant, it has been successful in controlling it to a level where native plants have been able to reclaim land that was previously claimed by the prickly pear.

Keep up the great work guys.

Kind Regards,


Robin writes:

Several thoughts

Speaking of infectious disease and ecology, the matter of attenuation could be looked at from the perspective of “fitness” for the pathogen. Allowing hosts to survive helps, as does enhancing transmissibility. Promiscuity in selection of hosts also works towards this end. Transmissibility is also enhanced by greater replicability, often at the cost of host survivability, as in smallpox. Incorporation into the germ line is the acme of transmissibility, for which the sine qua non is survivability of the host while also limiting replicability, as in the case of the endogenous retroviruses. Promiscuity in host selection, as pointed out by the sage Dixon on (his) “This Week” is exemplified by Toxoplasma. Perhaps the phenomena of attenuation vs. enhanced virulence could be studied from this perspective.

The root word unguis means “nail”.

The ungulates are a group of mammals in which the unguis has been modified into hooves. Artiodactyla (“Artiodactyla comes from Greek: ἄρτιος (ártios), “even”, and δάκτυλος (dáktylos), “finger/toe”), so the name “even-toed” is a translation of the description” – Wikipedia) are the ungulates with “cloven” hoofs. They are not actually cloven in the implication that it was originally one hoof, because the digits involved have always been phylogenetically separate. They correspond to our middle and ring fingers. (In humans the commonest form of syndactyly involves the same digits in the hands and feet.)

Some of these animals have become ruminants, chewing the cud, thus processing it for their internal fermentation tank. They are the ruminants. In Mosaic law, the ruminants and birds are the only kosher terrestrial vertebrates. The largest of there is the giraffe. Tradition has it that the appearance of a ruminating pig will make it kosher and herald the appearance of the Masiach (Messiah).

Diptera (“two-winged) is the insect order that includes flies, mosquitoes and midges.

Brachygnathia inferior is present in humans in the Pierre-Robin syndrome.

Liam writes:

Hi Vince et al,

DISCLAIMER: this email got a little out of hand at over 600 words, at this length I thought

you might be more comfortable reading it structured like a paper, so here you go.

ABSTRACT: I’m a neuroscientist who has been listening to your show on and off for two or three years, and I have decided to start my own podcast in a similar vein. Here, I ask questions about the development and technical aspects of your podcast, and present two possible picks of the week.


I started listening to TWiV a couple of years ago when I was doing my honours project in a virology lab at the University of Guelph. I’ve always been more of a geneticist at heart, and I’m now working on my PhD in a neuroscience/psychiatric genetics lab at McGill university in Montreal, but I’ve been an occasional listener of the show ever since. I’ve always been really impressed by the way you balance your show, making sure it is informative and interesting to experts, but still appeals to non-experts.

Since virology is a small field, at least in comparison to genetics or neuroscience, I assumed other fields would have similar podcasts. I’ve looked high and low and have been pretty consistently disappointed by what I’ve found, the best case is interviews with authors unbiasedly brought to you by the journal that published the paper, so I’ve talked to a couple of my talking-adept friends and colleagues we’re going to start our own. I have a little bit of experience in radio but, short story long, I was wondering if you could impart any advice on things to do or avoid that you’ve gained over the years of podcasting.


There are a couple of specific areas in which I would particularly appreciate your advice, but feel free to add on anything else you think would be helpful. First and foremost I’m really impressed by the size and diversity of audience you have accrued, and I was wondering if you have tips for keeping things interesting to the grad student/researcher audience but still accessible to outside groups. In the same vein, how much information do you have about your audience? I’ve been using you guys as an example of how successful this kind of format can be, but if I could include some actual numbers it would make my job of pitching the idea a lot easier.

Second, do you approach papers you are using for the podcast differently that papers you are reading for your own research? I know that for me so far thinking about how to present a paper has changed how I write papers; I tend to look for the narrative element, but I’m curious how you approach it.

Finally I have a couple of more technical questions. I went back and listened to some of your first shows recently, and noticed that your audio quality has improved a lot since then, what do you use in terms of recording equipment? I’m also curious about your software, how do you record from skype, and what do you use to make your final product?

Finally, editing. I’ve read some people talk about podcast editing who talk about spending more time editing than recording. I’ve done some music and interview editing, so I know that this is possible, but I’m not sure it’s necessary. How much editing of the show do you do?


I’d like to end with a pick of the week suggestion. I know you have discussed a couple of papers from the journal eLIFE, but the journal only started having its own site last month. I have been saying for years that one of the key steps for the open access movement would be to have a OA journal in direct competition with journals like Nature, and eLIFE, despite its stupid name, seems like it might be that journal. The thing they’ve still got me wondering about is how they will monetize the journal, since right now they are being supported by their backers.

Another interesting service is called Rubriq, which is designed to give fast peer review turnaround, with reviews that will be accepted by a wide range of journals. I am a little bit hesitant about the privatization of the peer review process, but what we have now is insanely inefficient, so I might be willing to give it a shot.

Finally, I want to thank you guys for your contributions to the community, it’s really impressive what you’ve accomplished and if I can be a fraction as successful I’ll be ecstatic.


The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

David writes:

Dear TWiVirologist,

Listening to your podcasts has awakened in me a fascination with paleovirology. Indeed, starting with the information from several of your podcasts and Vincent’s online lectures I came up and gave an informal talk about paleovirology to the local fossil club.

In doing web based searches on paleovirology, I came across one paper different from the rest. Instead of finding evidence of viral DNA remnants in hosts, this paper makes a claim of physical evidence of old viruses (a “fossilized virus”). The paper entitled “Fossil evidence of insect pathogens” from the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology is at:

This unfortunately is a pay site (grumble) that wants $31.50 for the paper (double grumble). I want to read a whole slew of articles and can’t justify paying $30-40 a piece on the chance they may contain something interesting, so I’ve been unable to read this paper.

As far as I can tell from the abstract and the figures (which you can look at for free), the authors are making the case that based on their shapes, viruses were trapped along with their host midge in amber. My question is, based the figures (and if you can access the journal, the text), do you think that their contention is valid? It’s not real obvious to me that the objects in the pictures are viruses.

Thanks for your help with this. Keep up the good work.


Patrick writes:

Dear TWiV team,

I recently watched a nice TED talk on science education/communication by Tyler DeWitt:

The main thesis is that by making science fun and approachable you’re doing a service to the greater community even if some of the details are lost. I’m often annoyed at the gross personification and oversimplification of science, particularly in popular science reporting. For example, imprecise metaphors often allow misleading/false interpretations (e.g., flu tells time). For these reasons I found myself conflicted during his talk, but ultimately agreeing with the speaker’s point that, at the end of the day, it’s more important to garner an interest in science and a sense for data-based reasoning than to drill down on the details to the point where the concepts are inaccessible. TWiV takes an alternative approach by inviting listeners in to examine science, and its intricacies, through a scientist’s perspective. I think there’s room for both.

DeWitt has contributed a number of short videos in an effort to make science more accessible.

His efforts are commendable and worthy, I think, of a TWiV pick.

I also wonder if you’d consider doing an episode on science education and outreach? I think a discourse on how to solve the ‘information gap’ is an important topic, particularly for a nation where science literacy is astonishingly low.

Thanks as always for all your efforts.

It’s currently 40 degrees F with clear skies in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

All the best,


PS. I recognize the irony in my comment about metaphors, since our lab, myself included, often use an ‘arms race’ to describe host-virus evolution 🙂

Patrick S. Mitchell

Malik Lab

Division of Basic Sciences

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center


Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program

University of Washington

Sizun writes:

Howdy Vince, Rich, Alan and Kathy,

Hope you are all doing well! Sorry it has been a long time since I wrote in, but I promise that I have been faithfully going to the church of TWIV whenever I have free time (but you know, being in grad school and all, I’m not supposed to have any free time).

I just came across an article published today, and thought it will be very interesting to talk about on the show:

We all know viruses have to hijack host cellular factors to proliferate, while the host tries to fight back with anti-viral factors, triggering an endless loop of co-evolution between the host and the virus. This paper is interesting, because it is the first to show that viruses might be able to not just steal elements of the host immune system, and use it back against the host immunity!

Just a side note, the CRISPR/Cas system that they looked at in the paper has recently been really hot as a potential new “genome editing” tool in addition to ZFNs and TALENs.

Ok, enough adrenaline rush, now back to my boring life of reading papers, doing experiments and writing code. Just kidding.

Take care and keep TWIVing!



Adam writes:

Hi Guys and Gal,

This is just too cool. Nothing more to say except that you couldn’t make this stuff up!

Adam – 37C / 98.6F

Melbourne, Australia – 24C, sunny.

Raihan writes:

Greetings to my favorite teaching team in the world!

I came across this article from twitter and would like to share it with you guys. Its a news report and I’m unsure if its made its way to the scientific literature yet but if its true… it sure is going to be a game changer…

I’m still remaining skeptical, but this may be its just an over hyped story of how anti-virals can control and suppress HIV infection (a fact i learnt from you guys ;)).

Keep up the amazing work!!


-the struggling PhD student from Singapore-

Patrick writes:

Dear TWiV team — I’m sure you’ve all seen this story, but if you haven’t I wanted to send it along.

The NYT article:

The first description of the data at CROI:

I think there are many reasons to be cautious regarding the results and implications of this single case, but there’s no harm in being cautiously optimistic. I do worry a bit that this will be overly/inaccurately publicized. It also seems like a good opportunity to point out that even if these results lead to a real ‘functional cure’ for HIV-1+ infants, mechanisms/funding to get drugs to areas of the greatest need globally is sorely lacking (at least that I am aware of).

All the best,


PS. pretty gloomy right now in Seattle (44 degrees F, raining), but days are getting longer and this story definitely (potentially?) brightens things up a bit.

Patrick S. Mitchell

Malik Lab

Division of Basic Sciences

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center


Richard writes:

G’day twivernators!

I am a paramedicine student in Melbourne Australia. I was very excited to that Vince is coming down south next year. If you are speaking anywhere that I can access I’d love to attend. I have listened to your show/shows for a couple of years now and it has hugely broadened my interest and knowledge in virology and microbiology in general. It is great to hear about non clinical application as most of what I see is symptoms and signs etc. thanks for your weekly insight into these amazing tiny worlds.

Dickson Despommier writes:


Lynn Enquist writes:

It came to my attention that you had a TWIV on DNA sensors in the nucleus (one of my students listens religiously). I think that you did not see a recent paper by one of my faculty (Ileana Cristea) about her work identifying an interesting viral DNA sensor in the nucleus. I’ve attached it for you.

I’m in China, Hangzhou, coming home today. You should do a TWIV on the 10,000 dead pigs in the river that flows through Shanghai – looks like some of them had a porcine circovirus infection.


Cedric writes:

Dear Vincent et al.,

I’m not sure if this has been suggested before, but I would like to recommend a Chrome extension that stops YouTube videos from automatically playing: There is no longer a need to live in fear of a link suddenly playing audio while recording an episode.



Sandra writes:

Dear Vincent,

I don’t remember where I first heard about TWIV, but I subscribe and have been listening to the podcasts for a few months now. I have a BA in Economics and an MBA, and have worked in corporate America for over 20 years. In my late 20’s I discovered the work of Stephen Jay Gould and read everything I could find on natural history, including bios of Darwin, Wallace, Huxley and other great minds of the 19th Century and current work by great authors like Neil Shubin. I guess to summarize this: I have a strong interest in science, but absolutely no formal science education, just knowledge I have picked up by reading science in my spare time.

I enjoy TWIV immensely, but find myself writing down terms used on the show with the thought that I need to look them up sometime *-and start to learn about cellular biology in order to get more out of the show. I could buy a textbook, but it has occurred to me that I might read an entire intro book on cellular biology and then not get much benefit if most of the discussions your roundtable has are of concepts that would only be taught in graduate level courses.

With a full time job, exercising, keeping up with the (economic, political, tech and science) news via the internet, having a social life, and listening to TWIV and The Naked Scientists Podcast (which recently had a podcast on epigenetics!!!), I don’t have the time to try to learn advanced cellular biology.

I would like your advice as to whether reading an introductory cellular biology book might be adequate to allow me to get a lot more out of TWIV podcasts, or whether I should just stick to scribbling notes and looking things up.

In return for the favor of your advice in this matter, I promise to never again tell anyone the flu shot is safe because it contains “dead virus”. Furthermore, I pledge to always correct anyone else who I hear making this mistake.

Best Regards,

Corporate American with Zeal for Learning Science

ps – I apologize if I have committed a faux paux by addressing this email to you using your first name. I have listened to so many episodes of TWIV now that I feel as if you, Alan, Rich, Kathy and Dickson are a group that I am privileged to “hang out with” from time to time, eavesdropping on your thoughts about viruses, cellular biology, chemistry, etc.

Steve writes:

Hi TWIV Team,

Having listened to each and every TWIV podcast since the inception of the show, you have tantalized us (and yourselves) with the idea of inviting a guest on the show to talk about plant viruses. I am a retired emergency medicine physician, so have lots of time to listen to science podcasts. So in addition to TWIV, there are other excellent science and medicine podcasts that I listen to, including Triple A – S’s weekly Science Magazine podcast.

At the recent AAAS annual meeting in Boston, AAAS interviewed Dr. Marilyn Roossinck from Penn State University about plant viruses, and that’s my suggested listener audio podcast pick of the week.

Scroll down to “Science Podcast: 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting”. It is located between the 15 February 2013 show and the 8 February 2013 shows.

You’ll see ten or twelve links to items from that AAAS Annual Meeting. Click on the link titled: “15 February: Plant Virus Ecology (MP3)”

Here’s the actual URL of this 8 minute 41 second MP3:

Having listened, don’t you think Dr. Roossinck might be an excellent TWIV guest? She is knowledgeable and clearly loves and knows her field. Equally important, she has an enthusiasm for her subject that is infectious, and she gives a great interview. She is poised, articulate and relaxed.

After listening, I googled her and located her bio contact information here:

This is a suggestion and only a suggestion. If you follow up with Marilyn and this does not gel, for whatever reason, no problem. If you decide not to contact her in the first place, again for whatever reason, no problem. But if she does end up being interviewed by the TWIV team, that would be great. I’m happy just knowing that I made a contribution to your show, no need to read my email on your podcast.

Warm regards and thanks for the many hours of superb podcasting. Science is just wonderful stuff and listening to scientists who enjoy doing what they do, like the TWIV team does, is just so special. I am so glad I spent my career in the sciences.

Warm regards,

Steve Lauterbach, MD

Retired emergency medicine doc

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