TWiV 354: The cat in the HAART

September 13, 2015

TWiV 354Hosts: Vincent RacanielloDickson DespommierAlan DoveRich Condit, and Kathy Spindler

The esteemed doctors of TWiV review a new giant virus recovered from the Siberian permafrost, why influenza virus gain of function experiments are valuable, and feline immunodeficiency virus.

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Timestamps by Jennifer. Thanks!

Weekly Science Picks 1:40:40

Alan – Experience Curiosity
RichPrimrose School
Kathy – Egg drop solutions
Dickson – Dragonflies by Pieter van Dokkum
Vincent – NASA guide to air-filtering houseplants

Listener Pick of the Week

Amir – Publons (Nature article)

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6 comments on “TWiV 354: The cat in the HAART

  1. Johannes Schimming Sep 13, 2015

    Dear TWiV Team,

    hereby I want to inform you of a little flaw in your knowledge about Ötzi the iceman.

    This summer I visited the museum where Ötzi is stored in a cooling chamber and saw him with my own eyes through a 25×25 square centimeter big window. This museum is in Bolzano, the capitol of South Tyrol, Italy. He is there because he was found in Italy exactly 92.56 meters away from the Austrian border (they resurveyed the border between those to countries to clarify Ötzi’s “nationality”).

    So Switzerland was never in the game of being Ötzi’s site of the find .

    Here is the link to the museum’s website:

    Kind regards and please go onwith your awesome show,

    Johannes Schimming

  2. (I remember Kawaoka on TWiV saying he didn’t understand why people still

    opposed after he had exlained why the research was useful. I didn’t
    understand that.)


    As I understand it, the GOF-argument is, that those methods may also be
    used by

    evildoers to create more dangerous flu-viruses. While those people (Kawaoka
    and earlier

    also Wimmer’s de-optimization) are doing this for vaccine production, it is
    clear that

    these methods can also be used to create worse viruses. Evildoers may learn
    from it

    “mechanistically”, as Vincent would say.

    Could they do the research while keeping the results secret ?

    Apparently not, the system is not designed for that research.

    Maybe the military could do that. You must control and lock up these

    And let me say, that the TWiV team is traditionally biased here.

    It’s a controversial discussion and most non-flu scientists are against it
    and that’s

    why we have the moratorium. So, how likely is it that all TWiVers are soo

    on one and the same side here ? I’m not sure how it started, maybe the

    Osterholm discussion, maybe because Palese benefits from GOF-research,

    maybe because they are too concerned about the science,research,teaching

    community and their funding and too less concerned about the general

    It goes more and more into riduculing than debating.

    I call it agenda-driven science as opposed to curiosity-driven

    You would pick only the evidence that supports you agenda while

    the contras. You won’t acknowledge and accept any argument of the

    side and do some weighting of pros and cons.

    In my opinion the lab escapes from official lab is not the main argument,

    but the danger that others will secretly do the research in less safe

    illegally or in countries with laxer regulation.

    • How do you know that these methods can be used to create ‘worse’ viruses? Worse for whom? Where is the evidence? There is none – it is all threatening, apocalyptic scenarios created by the anti-GOF crowd which can only think of fear.

      • thanks for replying here. I think open internet discussion

        is more productive than the typical debating in conferences

        or writing papers or articles. You can rethink,edit,

        correct,add links and there is direct feedback and discussion.

        I’m missing this in the important GOF-debate, the

        main “players” (Osterholm-term) won’t do this.

        profvrr wrote:

        > How do you know that these methods can be used to

        > create ‘worse’ viruses?

        > Worse for whom? Where is the evidence? There is none –

        > it is all threatening, apocalyptic scenarios created

        > by the anti-GOF crowd which can only think of fear.


        ## I “know” — it seems likely from what we know. (There is

        much evidence, I’d bet, that most experts would agree )

        ## “Worse” — more virulent, more transmissable in humans.

        Greater pandemic risk,

        ## Worse for — mankind, global health, global economy.

        ## evidence —

        We know, that these pandemic flu viruses are out there

        in the giant search space of 13000^4 combinations and

        are found by nature every ~40 years with an evolutionary

        algorithm of point mutation and reassortment,

        purely step by step, one at a time.

        We know, there are better algorithms for such “problems”

        and computers are more powerful than nature for that.

        We also know that (many) viruses can be assembled from

        just knowing the sequences.

        This is becoming ever cheaper and easier.

        And we know, that lab-reassortment and passaging can

        often create more transmissable better host adapted

        and sometime more virulent viruses in the lab,

        starting from some other (artificial) virus.

        Luckily probably we didn’t yet get pandemic-capable

        viruses from that. (so far)

        Worse viruses have been created by these methods,

        viruses that are being generally (including you, afair)

        considered more dangerous than the original,

        unmanipulated ones and require higher safety levels.

        There is evidence that they are more dangerous,

        although they didn’t yet create a pandemic.

        There are legal hurdles to fully create these,

        so we don’t really know what is currently possible.

        There could also be some fundamental problems,

        which however I don’t see and which have not

        been outlined yet. There is “no evidence” for

        fundamental problems using your language.


        ## apocalyptic scenarios creaed by the anti-GOF crowd —

        I remember how the apocalyptic scenarios were

        “created” in 2005f by the “H5N1 crowd”


        The “GOF-crowd” then just applied it to lab-viruses.

        I think that without the H5N1 crowd there may not have

        bee an anti-GOF crowd. (too small for a crowd)


        But for a reasonable risk estimate it doesn’t matter

        so much which crowd thinks what and how they spread it,

        what media and headlines they use.

        I’m not happy with the GOF-crowd either, FVR etc.

        Both sides in the controversy are party agenda-driven,

        they have professional interests un the decision.

        How safe current American labs are, what happened

        in 1977 or whether GOF-research is useful, that’s

        not the main point, IMO.

        The main point is estimating the risk created by

        current technological non-GOF advances.


        ## GOF-crowd —

        By calling them “crowd”, you presumably want to

        compare them with the (uninformed) “anti-vaccine

        crowd” (another term used by TWiV) or the

        “climate-change-denier-crowd” or such.

        But it doesn’t work. There are many reknowned and

        accepted scientists, nobel-laureates and such,

        in the crowd and indeed most non-flu experts are

        reportedly against those GOF-experiments.