Jessica writes:

Hi TWIV gang,

Since you invited people to send in their DIY viruses, here are mine:

They are icosahedrons with 20 faces, 12  vertices, and 5-fold symmetry.

I made these many years ago to give to my graduate advisor, Michelle Ozbun (whom you have had on the show!)

Thanks for the great podcast.

Samuel writes:

Together with Roland Regoes we’re organising a conference on viruses we thought your audience might be interested in. Our aim is to bring together people working on different viruses using a variety of approaches. For instance, we invited people like Jean-Michel Claverie (who works on giant viruses) and Christophe Fraser, who is an epidemiologist. We’re struggling to get enough participants (perhaps due to budget constraints) so any advertising help would be most welcome. Of course do not hestiate to contact me for further details.

Thank you in advance for your time!

– Samuel


New deadline for registration: Jan 22, 2014

From emerging to pandemic viruses: interplay between host ecology and viral evolution

April 2-6, 2014, Roscoff (Brittany, France)

Sophie writes:

Hi twivees.

I have a somewhat useless follow-up, concerning “gemütlich” or “hygge” in danish. As a Dane I consider myself somewhat of an expert as it is the only way to get through a winter that consists of 7 hours of daylight, cold rain, sleet etc.

While the definition Rich found is completely correct, I found it somewhat lacking. “Hygge” is curling up under a fleece with a cup of cocoa, watching your favorite movie. “Hygge” is the smell of home and love. “Hygge” is opening presents with your family. I guess it’s everything nice distilled into a few hours and it’s the only way to get through a Scandinavian winter.

Happy New Year

Sophie (the biotech student that wrote you a couple of times long ago, before I became a vet student)

Greg writes:

Your discussion of EMCV on TWIV 262 made me wonder whether that might be the reason elephants are so afraid of mice.

On a more serious note, I’ve heard it said that the mouse is a good model of the human immune system. Given that I’m wondering if you had any comments on the work by Seok et al published in PNAS at the beginning of 2013?

“…We were surprised by the poor correlation between the genomic responses in the mouse models and those responses in human injuries, especially given the worldwide prevalence of the use of mice to model human inflammation.”


Jim writes:


You’ve mentioned the concept of funding. Perhaps a tactic used by Mike with his Tech Show can be used to accumulate funds to help pay for the transcription work so the folks working on it can spend more time extracting proposed episodes and the link.

Mike’s Tech Show makes money by having people link to Amazon through his site. It seems to provide a moderate income. This link shows his affiliates, including Amazon. This link from notes for show 478 shows the redirect text he discusses for about five minutes starting around the 26 minute mark in the show.

Amazon for Dummies extract provides a concise explanation of the affiliate program. It appears to pay about 3% of the price paid for purchases. All your listeners do is use a link on your web site to deal with Amazon. I’ve used Mike’s link a few times and haven’t seen any differences from going directly to the site.

The only concerns are professional and institutional constraints you have with using the web site to raise funds.


Smithfield, VA

Jim writes:


Just so it isn’t overlooked, a PDF version is attached. What I found interesting is the existence of an apparent group of anonymous whistle-blowers who sound like trolls.

Smithfield, VA

Marion writes:

Follow-up– Letter to twiv 264– contradiction and viral can become bacterial (not trans-substantiation).

I was struck by the 180 degree about-face in episode 264. Near the beginning of the episode there was a question about whether the “public” is interested in science. All the hosts decided that the public is definitely interested in science, even tow truck drivers. However, toward the end of the episode, the discussion included unsubstantiated, negative comments to the effect of —– 80-90% of the public does not know the difference between a virus and a bacterium, maybe even what a cell is. I think these kinds of discussions are mostly pointless, since they are not backed by data, thus the easy turnaround. Moreover, if data exist they are largely based on self-reporting. However, I disagree with Alan that the anti-vaccinators, the climate change-deniers, the creationists are marginal. They may not be a majority but their vociferous willful ignorance is very dangerous and the more noise they make, the more that neutral , less educated people or policy makers may be swayed.

Secondly, regarding the issue of confusing viral and bacterial infections and treatments, I did want to point out one thing. A viral infection MAY predispose a person to a secondary bacterial infection. Examples include 1) influenza and pneumonia,2) HIV and secondary infections 3) measles; also probably 4) rhinovirus and strep throat. Good medical care might include close monitoring of viral infections for subsequent secondary infections, possibly including prophylactic antibiotics, IN CERTAIN CASES, such as someone who has recurrent bacterial infections. Of course more and better antivirals would be ideal.

IF THIS BRINGS UP THE TOPIC OF antibiotics abuse and misuse, I have several comments:
a. I DISAGREE that overuse of antibiotics causes emergence of superbugs. THIS GOES IN THE CATEGORY OF “post hoc non propter hoc”. It is correlative only. I don’t think data exist to test this hypothesis. My opinion is that ANY use of antibiotics selects for resistance, and I doubt we can return to a NO antibiotic era. We need to develop better ones and use existing ones better.

b. The ID docs need to take a lesson from HIV cocktail treatment—the multiple drugs are not used because they are “stronger” or because of provirus: they are used to slow replication and therefore mutation and therefore emergence of drug resistance. If we did the same with anti-bacterials, ie, simultaneously hit with multiple effective drugs, I believe we would actually DECREASE emergence of resistance. But it needs to be tested.

One more comment on Reprogramming T cells for leukemia therapy (NEJM)

I totally agree that this is totally cool, what my undergraduate students were more cognizant of was that it used a lentiviral vector, ie, HIV. They thought that HIV cures leukemia.

Jean-Michel writes:

Dear Vincent:

Thanks for your continuing interest in giant viruses. I can already tell you that the new year will not be devoid of surprises concerning them. The saga will continue! A paper should come out early in february (fingers crossed!). I will send you a proof as soon as it is formally accepted, but you will have to respect the embargo, of course.

In the meantime, best wishes for the new years on behalf of myself and Chantal.

Jean-Michel Claverie, Dr Sc

Director, Structural & Genomic Information Lab. (UMR7256 CNRS-AMU)

Toph writes:

Hey TWiV team,

The temp here in San Antonio is 12 degrees Celsius, and it was pretty sunny today…

I have a couple questions.

My first question is about vaccines.

It has to do with the the principle behind vaccines: exposure confers immunity.

(Wait, is confers the right word, Vincent?)

With this in mind, how likely would it be (or have we seen this already) that exposure would not give immunity?

We heard this thought briefly mentioned in one of the discussions about HIV vaccines, and some of the problems in making HIV vaccines. I was wondering if this is a major issue.

Now about my second question…
(If this next question is too dumb you don’t have to read this one.)

I’m writing a short story as part of a writing group my friends have started, and I need a plausible “zombie” virus… Something that replicates in the saliva and is active on the brain. (I don’t really want it to be the reanimation type zombie, mind you.)

My friends know about my interest in viruses, and they know I listen to TWiV (Although I don’t [think] they themselves are listeners.) It was kind of their challenge for me to come up with something interesting.

I thought Dickson or Rich might enjoy throwing around some ideas.

Here was my stab at it…
An endogenized Polynda-like virus with different encapsidated DNA strands that work on separate parts of the body (to produce the symptoms we need…) It would be vertically transmitted, and it would “break free” of the genome when triggered by a chemical attack.

I need it to be as plausible as possible, and if this becomes an on going thing I wanna use it as a platform to explain what an endogenous virus is, what real … polydnavirus does, the difference between mortality rate and case fatality ratio… And eventually zoonosis, retroviruses, vaccine types… And well whatever I can work in… I’ll send you the link to the tumblr when I’ve written.

If you guys have any other ideas, or further ideas, please let me know! Thanks guys! (And gal… If you’re there.)

(Hmmm… Maybe I’ll name a few characters after y’all!)

Ps. I wanted to clarify, I know vaccines work… what I was wondering is if we’ve ever run into a virus that we can keep catching, something that is still infectious to us even if we produce a complete immune response.

John writes:

It is -18 outside as I risk creating an infinite loop by writing an email in response to an all-email episode.

I liked Rich Condit’s comments about 1984, doublethink, and critical thinking in TWiV 253.

First, my own observations, then I’ll explain how this relates to TWiV.

I listened to episode 253 around the time the US Department of Transportation released its annual poll of drivers. As usual, most drivers said that speeding is bad and they exceeded speed limits anyway. That’s doublethink. Critical thinking was conspicuously lacking, as reporters cut and pasted “speed is bad” press releases as if they were a sound basis for policy. Apply reductio ad absurdum. If “speed is bad” is the basis for policy, we should freeze in place forever more. There is more to the story.

On TWiV I hear a lot of “vaccines are good” generalities when there is more to the story.

In episode 265 you mentioned the HPV vaccine (again). I’ll accept that it is safe and effective at preventing HPV infection. Now who should get it?

“Prevents cancer” does not answer that question.

Apply reductio ad absurdum. The honest claim is “probably reduces risk of cancer,” and the vaccine costs money to make. What if it cost a billion dollars to reduce one person’s risk of cancer by 1%? There must be some limit. We can’t make sound policy without a cost-benefit analysis.

I hope the TWiV crew can fill in some numbers: “The HPV vaccine costs $X per person. Each vaccination saves Y lives and prevents $Z in future medical costs.”

On the medical side, there is some guesswork involved. Imagine an XMRV vaccine to prevent prostate cancer, before we learned that XMRV doesn’t cause prostate cancer. I gather the HPV-cancer causal link has more solid evidence, but nobody has done 40 years of trials to quantify long term effectiveness.

On the economic side, the value of a life is reasonably well understood. I recommend the 22 February, 2013 Science magazine
podcast. They discuss the cost-effectiveness of HIV treatment in Africa. A key measure is the ratio between (cost per year of life saved) and per-capita GDP.

I found partial numbers for the HPV vaccine. My impression is it is moderately cost effective when purchased in bulk for mass vaccination campaigns. From a business perspective that makes sense. To maximize profit the price of a drug should be as high as possible without making the cure worse than the disease.

But I don’t have accurate numbers to base that conclusion on. Maybe you do.

Bill writes:

I became aware of TWIV and TWIP about three weeks ago, and have listened to each new episode as they occur and I also am playing catchup via the RSS feed and I estimate that will take me ~~ a year.

I find it very interesting in it’s own right – I am a retired Chemical Engineer, and it is by far preferable to the banal talk shows and music as I perform my exercise routines 4-5 times per week. I am not studying this matter, but it occurred to me that all manner of course work could be prepared in this manner as a supplement to classes and lab time so the students could use dead time more productively since adding this audio stream to the class and lab streams could cement the knowledge into long term memory more effectively.

I have listened to you and others on TWIV complain about the dumbass vaccination deniers and that made me ask: Is a denied vaccination a pre-existing condition and as such can insurers deny coverage for any disease that could have been vaccinated against? What if the insurer has a questionnaire and asks if you have had vaccinations for 1,2,3 …illnesses and as you answer so is your rate determined. Non vaccinators will pay a much higher rate, which is reasonable, since their refusal to vaccinate reduces the herd immunity of all of us and thus increases our costs.

If people say they have vaccinated their kids to get the lower rate, and get an illness and it is found that they lied = they bear true costs.

Of course, these deniers all want their cake AND they want to eat it too.

Has this scenario ever played out in the new Obama system? and if so, how have the insurers ruled?

Hannah writes:

Dear TWiV,

I was disappointed that you did not do any picks of the week on this episode. I’m sending along a link to the book that book that Dave mentioned, “Practical Computing for Biologists.” It can be found here. Perhaps you could add it to the links for the episode and add it to the master list of weekly picks.


Stephen writes:

I wanted to send this listener pick of the week now so I could mention the weather here in the St. Louis Missouri area. It’s 12F with -3F windchill. There is about 9″ of snow on the ground and it’s still snowing. The forecast low for tonight is -10F.

The video is 14 years of US weather.

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