Kim writes:

Hello TWIVers,

I have looked for information for years about my influenza question without finding anything.

The vaccine only seems to last a few years, and is only partially effective, less so as you age, but having the infection likely confers lifetime immunity. Could some of us be better off getting influenza until we reach age 65, and then getting the vaccine from there on in?

I will continue to get vaccinated while my relatives are being treated for cancer, when any risk reduction is better than none. Parents of young children and those in close contact with anyone who has a chronic disease also warrant vaccination. But I am 50ish now, in good health and work at home. I know, the higher vaccination rate, the less influenza for everyone, or so we assume, though I am not aware of any studies that show this. If you do not wish wish to answer my question online, a very short paragraph opinion would be lovely.

Since the following was a large study, maybe you could mention it online. I just read the article:

Comparative community burden and severity of seasonal and pandemic influenza: results of the Flu Watch cohort study

The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Early Online Publication, 17 March 2014   doi:10.1016/S2213-2600(14)70034-7

PMID:  24717637

Their results show 77% of influenza infections were asymptomatic, 83% who were symptomatic did not see their doctor, and 18% of unvaccinated people were infected yearly. It appears that our surveillance methods may need to change.

Though I am a layperson, I have learned much from your podcast. I grew up reading the Merck Manual while in grade school, so anything medical is of interest. Some things do go over my head, but your podcast is at that challenging, but fun learning level.

Thank you for podcasting,


Grande Prairie, Alberta

Currently at -10c/ 14F, but warming up to t-shirt weather tomorrow at -6

Up North in Canada, eh?

Konrad writes:

Hi Vincent & co!

I’m an 18-year old Briton fascinated with biology (going to study it at Imperial College, in fact), and I came across this paper recently

when reading about modified genetic codes. I think it shows the great variety that viral evolution can achieve and begs the question – what can’t viruses evolve to infect?? I hope you’ll find it interesting and shed some light on the topic in an episode of TWiV. By the way, I came here from coursera, I remember serendipitously choosing your course last year and since then have loved all of it (parts one and two)! What you do; with your course, your work and podcast, is truly remarkable and I extend my sincere gratitude to you, Ashlee and everybody involved. You’ve seriously encouraged me to learn and perhaps even to become a virologist, although these are exciting times for biology and I can’t make any promises as to what else I’ll discover! I’ve only been listening to TWiV for a couple of months but I can safely say it’s an interest I’ll continue to pursue. For the good of science, please keep doing what you’re doing!

Love, Konrad


Bill writes:

Vincent, the EFF has taken up the cudgel on all our behalfs

Bruna writes:

I was wondering why not talk a little bit about HIV CCR5 and the hot topic Ebola.

That is just a suggestion.

Best regards.

Don writes:

Dear Professsor Racaniello

First let me thank you and your colleagues for the  informative and entertaining TWI series. You certainly richly deserve all the kudos  your fans have bestowed.

Over the years you have covered or discussed most of the transmissible agents from phages/virii through prions, bacteria, fungi and multicellular parasites.  You even touched on the Tasmanian devil facial cancer . Now comes the canine transmissible cancer  (Science 24 Jan, 2014), also without a transmitting agent except the intact whole cell.  Is allografting in the wild for real or is there something in the “junk” DNA that permits this unusual propagation?

Not knowing which TWI to send this to. I have loosely followed Sara Palin’s remedy for tough questions “send them to Allah.”

Respectfully. Don

Jeff writes:

Hi Vince – in the last podcast you noted that, as outreach,  your podcast reaches only people who are seeking to learn about the topic.  You mention wanting to reach the people who aren’t seeking to learn about science (i.e. – the vast majority of people).  I would recommend that one way scientist educators could reach some of these people is by teaching introductory biology courses for non-majors instead of concentrating on higher level courses.

I am lucky in this respect because I teach at a community college where most of our courses have extremely minimal pre-requisites; if you have a pulse and can hold a pen you can take my class and that is the way I like it (the pre-requisites are a little more than that, but not much).  My courses are full of students who have a latent interest in aspects of biology, but who often don’t think they are “interested in science”.  They are there to fulfill a requirement on the way to their degree. They are on their way to a business  or  social work or econ degree…. or even no degree at all and a job as an air conditioner repair person.  When compared with science majors I would bet these people go to more cocktail parties and church socials and I suspect THAT is where the vast majority of people get their attitudes about science. I tell my students that I feel the most important thing I can do is to help them arm themselves with critical thinking and facts so they can change the world over beers or grape juice.  If all that happens is that one of my students confidently tells someone else that they feel that spending tax dollars on fruit fly research is important, or that vaccinating children does not harm them then that is a huge victory.  We can reach more cocktail parties by teaching courses with less pre-requisites.

I also have a blog that I sporadically attend to, mostly as a way of thinking to myself, but I realize that it might be a way of reaching more people too.

Thank you for your wonderful work!

I forgot to add that I am trying to get a plaque assay for Chlorella viruses (a la James Van Etten) going so that my students can measure viral titers of local lakes and ponds.


Jeffrey A. Mahr, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Biology

Georgia Perimeter College

Neva writes:

Hi Twivers,

UhOh. I hope the anti-vaccine folks are not emboldened by this. We have too much misunderstanding and lunacy and damage to children already from not vaccinating.


In a stunning reversal, world renowned pediatric gastroenterologist Prof. John Walker-Smith won his appeal against the United Kingdom’s General Medical Council regulatory board that had ruled against both him and Andrew Wakefield for their roles in the 1998 Lancet MMR paper, which raised questions about a link to autism. The complete victory means that Walker-Smith has been returned to the status of a fully licensed physician in the UK, although he had already retired in 2001 — six years before the GMC trial even began. -autism network

Maren writes:

Hi TWIVers,

first I wanted to thank you for choosing my suggestion for Pick of the  Week in TWIV 254. And here you see, I’m not shy and writing you again 😉

I know TWIV 267 was already some while ago, but I still wanna comment on it.

You discussed the Paper about TMPRRS2 cleaving HA in mice and had some questions in the discussion afterwords.

Luckily, some of your questions are already answered. You were wondering, if TMPRRS2 is also the protease cleaving HA in humans. So far no human study was made, but the proteases TMPRRS2 and HAT were actually identified in human bronchial airway tissue by profiling the expressed proteases and by testing them for being able to cleave HA in cell culture. The same group is also already working on inhibitors.

Prof. Garten and Eva Böttcher-Friebertshäuser from the University of Marburg, Germany, were actually the ones identifying the proteases.

So, if you want to have the whole picture, how the proteases were found and how far treatment development is, feel free to contact Prof. Garten from the University of Marburg. I met Prof. Garten last week at the 24th annual meeting of the German Society of Virology and told him about your questions. He told me, that he or Eva Böttcher-Friebertshäuser would be happy to join your show for an episode to answer all your questions.

Thanks for the great podcast

Greets from sunny Berlin, 4pm 18°C

Nathan writes:

Dear learned men and women of TWIV:

Thank you again for your superb podcast, particularly for the  “flamboyant flowering overdone” discussion of fonts in TWIV #278. The interview with Eugene Koonin in TWIV #275 was extraordinary. We now know when viruses or selfish elements originated on earth and that they’ve been with us since life began more than 3 billion years ago.

I recently completed listening to all the back episodes of TWIV. If the average university course has 45 hours of lecture time, I now have completed more than six graduate level virology classes. Thank you all for your generous gift to the world.

I have a listener pick. On YouTube I recommend the entire 13 part Jacob Bronowski’s BBC Series The Ascent of Man. Though more than 40 years old, his analysis and insights into the tensions between scientists, non-scientists, and democratic politics are highly relevant to today’s so-called scientific “debates” of vaccination, global warming, agricultural biotechnology, etc.  For Part 1 see .  Mrflubber1976 has posted most of the complete episodes.

It’s 55 degrees F (13 degrees C) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.



PS In the world of biotechnology patent law, the havoc created by the Supreme Court’s Myriad decision continues (see my letter and your discussion on TWIV #233).


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