Dylan writes:

Hello Drs. TWiV,

While listening to your most recent episode I was reminded of an article title/abstract I saw last year (see link below) that I don’t remember you covering. I understand there are other benefits to switching the production method for the flu vaccine but it would seem that this method could help alleviate some of the issues with egg adaptation. I must admit I haven’t thoroughly read the paper but I would be interested in your thoughts.

We’re currently experiencing warming in Minneapolis with temperatures predicted to get above freezing for the second day in a row. Hoping this means spring is on the way!

Thank you,



Anne writes:

Please don’t “gender-balance” the studies you choose to review! Be politically incorrect, “gender-blind”, and, in fact, scientific, by continuing to choose studies based on popular interest and timeliness! This will help the population at large, both men and women.

My humble opinion and wish,

Anne R

David writes:

Dear Twiv,

While listening to twiv 478, Vincent was surprised about the TedX statement that 120 years was mentioned as the most we can go to, and wondered why the presenter was looking how to go beyond it.  

I am guessing that the number 120 is not a mere coincidence or vague estimate.  While I am not very church minded, I do wonder about life and like to read classic literature of all sorts, and in one of my detours recently stumbled upon Genesis 6:3 which goes something like

And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

The context is that “God” was angry because his angels had come down from heaven and had procreated with human ladies, and decided to put a limit to it (sic).  

It rather surprised me that the bible is so unambiguous in this age limit – and furthermore, as it’s the very beginning of the book, it must be incorporated in Jewish, Christian and Muslim beliefs alike.  

In any case, as God himself established this limit, it may not be a wonder that scientists wish to push the age beyond this point.  I donot really want to speculate on the desirability or probability of defying this limit, as I have learned in life that nothing sets bad blood as easily as talking about religion or politics, but I thought you might want to add this datum to your knowledge base.

Kind regards,


Kay writes:

Dear TWiVers,

First, many thanks for this great podcast, which I listen to since episode 1. Unfortunately, I am usually 4-5 weeks behind – and this is why I rarely write in, although I often intended to. Today, I am in a bad mood (weather etc), so please allow me a little rant. Just stop reading if you feel that I get carried away…

I am a bioinformatics person of sorts, the kind of guy who thinks he knows everything but cannot even run an SDS-PAGE, not to mention a plaque assay. Unlike you kind TWiV folks, I have an extremely skeptical attitude towards surprise findings, and the publication of such, especially if done by fellow bioinformatics people. While your immediate reaction to this kind of papers apparently is to marvel about the wonders of nature, science, bioinformatics and such, my first reaction is to go to the computer and try to find where the mistake is, or what kind of artefact the researchers fell for.

Case in question: the lizard syncytin gene and the importance of syncytins for placenta biology in general. Not that I am an expert in placentas, or retroviruses, or syncytins, but you don’t need to be one to notice that there is something not quite right here. I can agree that mammalian syncytins are expressed in the placenta and have some kind of role there, because the double-ko does have a placental phenotype. However, the evidence that syncytins are linked to the ORIGINS of the placenta are very very poor. There are lots of other genes which, when knocked out, give a similar or more severe placental phenotype.

Moreover, syncytins are EVERYWHERE, well, almost everywhere.  I didn’t care to read the PNAS paper by Cornelis et al particularly carefully, so apologies to the authors if I misunderstood them. However, the figure 1 (which you liked so much) looks misleading at best. The authors highlight some branches (mammals and their strange placental lizards) in red, indicating that these species have known syncytins, claiming a striking syncytin-to-placenta correlation. A quick bioinformatical search reveals this to be an example of ‘selective data presentation’. Syncytin-like proteins are found in lots of species without a red line, including various birds (Chicken!), non-placental lizards (Anole!) fishes (Salmon!) and – best of all – Trypanosomes! Maybe Dickson can say a few words about the prevalence of placental protists. Admittedly, these genes are not called “syncytins” but rather “endogeneous retrovirus Env-like proteins”, but they are at least as syncytin-like as the reported skink protein. I will spare you the details, but the allegedly non-existing chicken syncytin is called FET1 for “female expressed transcript 1”. http://www.uniprot.org/uniprot/Q8JGM1

So, better watch out for the elusive chicken placenta.

This was by far not the only one of your recent TWiX papers that I have quibbles with. The ‘additional p53 copies in elephants’ from a recent TWiEvo episode is another one of those. Initially, I thought: ‘how interesting – backup copies of a major tumor suppressor in a big animal make a lot of sense’! But then your guest made a throwaway remark that these genes have lost their DNA binding domain. Seriously?  Without this part, the genes are as likely to be tumor suppressors as a car without a motor is likely to drive me home. The whole situation screams ‘pseudogene!’, maybe a transcribed one, but pseudo nevertheless.

And don’t get me started about the “Mimivirus = 4th domain of life” bogus.

Ok, having said that, I am feeling better now. Here is a suggestion for a future TWiV paper, since you seem to like this stuff:



These two papers would nicely continue the arc (pun intended) on repurposed retroviral proteins. Why should the env genes hog all the spotlight?

Best Wishes,



Kay Hofmann

Institute for Genetics

University of Cologne

Mark writes:

Dear TWiVodrome,

This is follow-up for episode 436 from almost a year ago, April 2017.

There is an outbreak of canine influenza in California, and local news stations are beating the drum to educate dog owners. One of our dogs is very social. During our walks he approaches and greets other dogs by sniffing their snouts and tails. The other goes to a groomer regularly. For the past several years our vet has recommended H3N2 flu vaccinations.

Soon the dogs will go to a kennel for several weeks while my wife goes on vacation. I called our vet to discuss the flu situation. She said they now have a new-to-market bivalent vaccine for both H3N2 and H3N8 strains. I wanted to know more, and via a little Google-ing found this site: doglfu.com.  It is a great information resource. Note that dogflu.com is sponsored by Merck so some nay-sayers may object to it. I have no relationship with Merck.

This map, image attached, shows spread of both strains of canine influenza especially interesting. Its URL is: https://www.dogflu.com/outbreak-map. The page cites work done at Cornell. This triggered a memory of hearing a TWiV with Cornell participants. Guests were discussing rapid spread of a new canine flu variant from greyhound races in Florida.

I’ve re-downloaded that episode, 436, and am almost half done re-listening to it.

You, the TWiVodrome folks, have created a vast audio library and resource. Here is a tip on how I search it. Using Google (or Bing) it is possible to restrict the search to a specific domain. The syntax for doing that is a search operator “site:” — for example “site:microbe.tv” will limit the search for the keywords to the microbe.tv domain. A Google search for  “canine influenza site:microbe.tv” reveals 54 hits, with the earliest being TWiV #42 from July 2009, which I have also downloaded for re-listening



Max writes:

Dear distinguished TWiV crew,

Hello again! I am currently finishing my PhD (hopefully ~6 months left) and would like to do a postdoc with a PI who studies viruses in some capacity. When I began graduate school I intended to study host-virus interactions but ended up getting wooed by my current PI and have been studying ribosomes ever since. It’s been a great ride, so no complaints, but I haven’t stopped thinking viruses are just the coolest.

I would love to know if you’ve got any advice for someone hoping to transition into your super-interesting, but extremely complex, field of study (like should I start with a broad overview of all of the kinds of viruses, or pick a family and dive really deep).

I’d also like to know if there are any areas of the field you think might be on the brink of really “breaking out”. Phage-microbiome interactions? Viral evolution (now that the stupid NIH restrictions on research have been lifted)?

Thanks for the great show,

Max Ferretti

The Scripps Research Institute

Jupiter, FL

PS: I’m the same guy who wrote in a few weeks ago about the aerodynamics of pregnant birds and bats.

Erik writes:

Hiya TWiV Crew,

I must say, I’ve never been very good at video games, and CD4 Hunter is particularly hard for me (those darn antibody attacks!!), But attached is a screenshot of the highest score I was able to manage (and it’s not even that high of a score: 1050 points, in the top left of the image).

All the best!

Mitchell writes:

Hello all,

I have killed many T cells. If that’s not worth a free book I don’t know what is.

Megan writes:

Hi TWIV folks!

Thanks for the awesome podcasts. My adoptive lab and I are always gushing over how awesome of a resource you all are. We love listening to the weekly editions and occasionally go back to the virology lectures/send new grad students that way since we don’t have enough of a formal virology course at the moment.  Anyways, it’s foggy and somewhere above freezing as I write this. A little about me: I’m a fourth year PhD student hoping to finish up by the end of 2018. I study the evolution of the fish virus, VHSv and dabble a bit into immunology. I’m an academic orphan at the University of Toledo and I use your  wealth of podcasts as a makeup for my lack of lab meetings/journal club. I wanted to get my score out to you for a chance at the book before I forget since I’m a busy TA this semester.


Megan Niner

P.S. forgot to mention Dr. Krishnamurthy, my adoptive adviser deserves a shout out here for making sure I continue to have space and support in my foster department.

Peter writes:

Dear Professors TWIV,

I have started to email in my answers for case studies to TWIP but a chance of a book by Peter Hotez was enough to encourage me to try my luck at TWIV. I have no idea if my score of 5250 is anywhere good and also had no idea before playing how good red blood cells are at blocking viruses!

I have really enjoyed listening to the discussions on flu vaccination. I am embarrassed to say I have only been vaccinated once, when I was interning at the CDC, Atlanta. In Ireland only those in at-risk groups are urged to get the vaccine. From the HSE website  “At-risk groups

We are urging people in at-risk groups to get the flu vaccine. We strongly recommended the vaccine if you:

  • are 65 years of age and over
  • are pregnant
  • have a long-term health condition
  • work in healthcare
  • are a carer
  • live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
  • in regular contact with pigs, poultry or water fowl

Don’t get the flu vaccine if you have had a severe allergic (anaphylaxis) reaction to a previous dose or any part of the vaccine.

Vaccination should be re-scheduled if you have an acute illness with a temperature greater than 38°C.”

Do you know why the herd immunity approach is not being promoted by our national health service? Are we just behind the times or could it be to do with our small population? Perhaps it is as simple as the flu vaccine being free here for at-risk groups, so if it was recommended for everybody people would say it should be free for everyone. Even then, from what I have heard from the podcasts, am I right in thinking it probably would make economic sense for the government to encourage mass vaccination to take pressure off already struggling hospitals plus loss of revenue due to sick days etc?

Anyways thanks for the great work. I am understanding more and more, the more I listen,

All the best,


Trinity College Dublin

Alex writes:

Hey TWiV!

I’d like to put myself in the running for the book contest. CD4 Hunter score attached. Fun game!



Jess writes:

Hello TWiV Team,

Just wanted to submit a pick of the week in honor of Black History Month.

The pick is here:


describing the career of Louis Tompkins Wright who linking back to episode 478 was involved in refining/updating the smallpox vaccine administration among other things.  He was an accomplished scientist and medical professional as well as staunch civil rights activist.

Sadly, I had to do some digging to learn about his amazing life and career but maybe this pick will help shine a light on a great mind and contributor to science, medicine and civil rights.

Thinking about representation in science/STEM, the database of female virologists may want to also include some option for other types of diversity as well if not already? Maybe it can be an additional tab for people want to be identified in those other ways (intersectionality–yay Kim Crenshaw and Pauli Murray!).

Thanks all,