Steve writes:

‎Hi Vincent,

I listened to your latest TWiM, the other day (I’ve caught up with them all now!), and thought you sounded not your usual bright and breezy self: Voice was lower and slower, and had me a little concerned. Glad to say, it must have been some recording difference, because you were all back to normal today on TWiV, and the squirrel story was quite an education in how difficult it is to find something, even when you’re sure it must be there.

Do look after yourself‎: you’d be a hard act to follow.

All the best,




(Where my central heating has come on! And it’s rained all weekend. The first blackberries are ripe already. I hate seeing that, as I’m sure they used to wait till Autumn (Fall), and it makes me feel like Summer is over.)

Chaim writes:

Can’t just fire a graduate student? Hopefully true at Columbia, but definitely not everywhere: I was fired from my first PhD lab with no warning about 2.5 years in. The graduate program told me there was nothing they could do for me unless I found another PI with available funding who was willing to take me on. Fortunately, I was able to do so, though it meant completely switching fields. I am fully aware of how incredibly lucky I was, though, and most people in that situation would have ended up on the street.

Ted writes:

Professor Racaniello,

Thanks for reading my email about Jokichi Takamine, whose remarkable life I encountered several years ago while researching the history of local anesthesia.

Mea culpa– his crypt is located in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY, which is a National Historic Landmark,not Woodside Cemetery, which I had written. Just wanted to make this factual correction.

Sakura Park, a “pocket park” is located at 500 Riverside Drive at 122 St. and is sandwiched between Riverside Church on the south, Manhattan School of Music on the east, and Grant’s Tomb on the west. Still possibly not a safe place to venture.

In any event, thanks for being such a great podcast host and good sport! I admire your energy and breadth of knowledge

Best regards,

Ted Splaver

John writes:

Reading my letter about insects on TWiV 347 you asked what I do for a living.  Insects are just a hobby.  I write CAD software for a living.

One paper on TWiV 347 was about a squirrel-associated virus. You might say squirrels are a hobby too, but I don’t breed them.

You read my letter about the squirrel bornavirus on TWiV 329.  I want to repeat my observation from that letter: Sciurus variegatoides is common near people in Central America, like Sciurus carolinensis in eastern North America.  If it were a bubbling cauldron of deadly virus we would see more disease.  Tourists would be dropping dead. Dogs would be saying “help!” instead of “squirrel!”

The species was discussed in Mammalian Species 500 and, of course, in Squirrels of the World.

P.S. Your discussion of the difference between male and female legos at the end of TWiV 343 reminded me of when I was a kid and my sister and I undressed her Barbie dolls.  Poor Ken.

Dennis writes:

Doc, just saw this on the BBC News App and thought you should see it:

Nigeria marks one year without recorded polio case

Nigeria makes a vital step towards being declared polio free in 2017, after marking a year without a recorded case of the disease.



Gerald writes:

July 2015 I was watching TV and saw this slick ad against vaccine.

I have some first hand experience with this “smarter-than-the-collective-knowledge-of-a-thousand-years” thinking.  Although not related to vaccines, rather antivirals, but it smells the same.

I think it is problematic, to be influencing people on TV regarding public health issues. I wonder how many trained immunologists support that coalition.  Probably like 1 crazy one.

I feel as if the internet can allow people to learn just enough to be dangerous.

They go to the fountain of knowledge and gargle rather than drink.

Perhaps this can be a opportunity to educate the public.  What does it take to convince people that with vaccines the benefits outweigh the risks by a large factor? Can animals studies be demonstrative in a way that is condensed to between 5-25 minutes?

That is about the amount of time one needs to develop a complete understanding immunology, right. 😏 Tongue and cheek statements aside, that is all the time people would give, if any at all: attention spans nowadays are short.

Let’s hope we don’t go back the old days, with lots of bad disease. Let’s not raise a nation of adults extra-susceptible to a rogue nations weaponized pathogens. Vaccines work and I hope we don’t let ourselves forget it.

Anyhow… just putting in my two cents.

Jerry from LA

DJ Guerra writes:

I have been researching immunization/vaccination papers for the last several years and have developed a complex opinion as to the scientific validity of this mass medical practice.

While many vaccines have been famously efficacious at eradicating highly morbid and mortal viral diseases (e.g. polio, smallpox) the vast increase in their range of pathogenic targets in a mere 65 years is unprecedented.

There is no doubt that targeting certain virulent human (and veterinary animal) pathogens is a tremendous gain in both clinical and basic research.

However, as a scientist, I harbor no absolutes in either method or practice. Uncertainty leads to better understanding while dogma stifles the imagination; the lack of this faculty of reason being the quiet killer of scientific endeavor.

To the point, many vaccines produce a potent B and/or T cell response (including a powerful memory –based immune response) and these kinds of challenges  have not been thoroughly vetted in the human population. With the recent publication in Science Translational Medicine (July 2015; see full citation below) which examined the possible link between one form of influenza virus vaccine on narcolepsy in Scandinavian children, a general concern  can be constructed that puts into question the  blanket practice of vaccination in children.

As you discussed in a recent TWIV with great acumen, that study examined a  specific formulation of vaccine that was shown to contain a nucleoprotein A  peptide with sufficient primary sequence homology to the endocrine hormone hypocretin (a.k.a orexin; hypothalamic neurotransmitter that regulates arousal, wakefulness, and appetite) to function as an immune mimetic.

The previous literature reveals that an Orexin isoform  deficiency results in  narcolepsy  in which the sufferer spontaneously falls asleep and abruptly  loses muscle tone (cataplexy). This is the result of autoimmune induced destruction of orexin generating cells or alternatively, destruction of the orexin receptor- a.k.a hypocretin receptor.

Because of the vaccine associated nucleoprotein A viral antigen which has a strong  affinity to a specific HLA membrane receptor that presents peptides to lymphoid cells thus triggering an immune response (including antibody production from circulating plasma cells); this higher antibody production to the viral peptide bound hypocretin receptor leads to a form of autoimmune response that targets the hormone receptor. Since hypocretin normally regulates wakefulness in humans (among other functions) , an autoimmune targeting of its receptor via viral antigen mimicry may have directly lead to the reported narcolepsy.

See also

With this very recent publication of follow-up work (S.S. Ahmed et al. “Antibodies to influenza nucleoprotein cross-react with human hypocretin receptor 2,” Science Translational Medicine, doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aab2354, 2015), a new interpretation of the disputed  beneficial  effects of vaccines on children may be necessary.

I am not advocating a moratorium on vaccines or on their development as a vital member of the pharmaceutical armamentarium. However, I am attempting to avoid the dogmatic staidness sometimes found in the academy, by suggesting a more open dialogue and further directed research (as the kind reported in the Science Trans. Med. Paper under discussion) to more fully examine the complex interactions of injected foreign antigen into immature (or faulty, aging) immune systems. Since this class of vaccines contain a range of antigenic ally powerful viral peptides that are further enhanced in their antigenic potency via adjuvant in the pharmaceutical formulation, any number of combinations of peptides with amino acid sequence homology to host proteins could potentially lead to similar (otherwise occult) autoimmune phenomena. If these peptides mimic neurotransmitters or other CNS ligand-receptor complexes, a host of neuromuscular and neuropsychological disorders could occur in certain genetically predisposed individuals.

Young children have a particularly susceptible immune system to hyper-activity since their repertoire of B and T-cell memories are just being developed. Many vaccines are given to this population. Although speculative, one can imagine secondary-structural  peptide interactions that may go unnoticed since  these are not typically examined during vaccine development. Besides primary and secondary (peptide) structural mimicry that could lead to an autoimmune response in certain (perhaps isolated) vaccinated children, higher order organization and indeed oligomerization may also play a role in this potential neurological dysfunction.

As with any good science; hypothetical deduction, detailed empirical exploration, and reasoned dialectical discourse should enlighten  and inform any mean ephemeral progress.

Dan Guerra, PhD.

Piet writes:

Hi All,

I am slowly but surely catching up with all the twiv that is out there, sating my daily fix, though I am a bit concerned when I eventually do catch-up and have to convert to a weekly dose.

I have noticed there are a number of twiv’s related to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so I thought this might be of interest:

Cape Town is currently 8 degrees C,  87% humidity (which is unusual) and quite sunny for a winter’s day.

Kind Regards,


Mark writes:

Dear TWiV-idae,

Keep up your educational outreach and evangelizing against the stupidity of the anti-vaxxers out there. Fortunately here in California our Governor recent signed a law tightening vaccination requirements for school children by eliminating personal and religious beliefs as exemptions from vaccination. More:

The fight against anti-vaxxers is truly nationwide. Via LinkedIn, I saw this post from a classmate who is the chair of the pediatrics department at the Dell Medical School in Austin, TX.

Today’s high temperature here in San Jose, CA was 77F and mostly sunny. As I write this, my Watch informs me the outside temperature is 70F. Here is an easy-to-follow fitness tip for the TWiV-idae and listeners: group your return phone calls together. Make them in a block of time and take a walk while chatting on the phone. Urban street noise isn’t a deterrent – the counter party will respect your walking/talking. Its easy to accumulate 1-2 or more miles walking and talking instead of sitting.

All the best.


William writes:

Hello esteemed TWiV hosts!

I am very excited to finally write in, I’ve never really had a good reason before but now seemed like a good time to speak up. I discovered your podcast while looking for podcasts about two years ago now and have been a weekly+ listener ever since. I love the conversational tone and the pragmatic attitude that you bring to the table i.e. science is done by people, for people and must always be considered in this light. I work for a non-profit edTech company in silicon valley where we make free educational materials for k-12 students. The weather here in California is too hot and too dry (partly cloudy and 66F/18.8 C with heavier winds in the afternoon these days), at least for my liking.

I’m writing because i would like to start a weekly edTech podcast and would live to use the title TWiET (This week in education technology) if thats ok with you. I also manage a bug-infested apartment complex so if you know of any viruses of arthropods that could bring about a cockroach apocalypse without pesticides i would love to hear about them. Besides that I just want to say that i love the podcast, love you guys and I hope you never give it up. Keep up the great work!


Kevin writes:

Is it considered gain of function research if you make a synthetic prion?

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3 comments on “TWiV 348 letters

  1. Alice Aug 20, 2015

    Dr. R. — don’t know if anyone responded to William about his good podcast idea. I wanted to point out that, while “TWIET” is not patented, it is being used. Leo LaPorte has a podcast on his network called, “This week in Enterprise Tech,” which uses the acronym “TWIET.” Best, Alice