Jacob writes:

Dear TWIV Team,

I always enjoy your podcast and especially enjoyed this week’s episode on defective viral genomes, a topic I studied as a graduate student.  The paper that you discussed from the Saleh Lab has so many novel and exciting features regarding the role of DVGs in insect infections. However, I feel compelled to write this note to suggest that two of the concepts you highlighted as especially novel are actually somewhat well established for mammalian viruses, particularly by the published works of Dr. Carolina B. Lopez at UPenn.  Specifically, her lab’s work has characterized paramyxovirus DVGs as potent PAMPs in activating the immune system (MBio, 2016; PLOS Path, 2013 & 2015; J Virol, 2014; Vaccine, 2013) and as important players in virus persistence (Nature Comm, 2017).  I realize that your podcast primarily focuses on the paper at hand and that it is impossible to recognize all past contributions, so I offer this email as a small acknowledgment of the Lopez Lab’s pioneering work in the DVG field.

Respectfully yours,

Jacob Yount

Assistant Professor

The Ohio State University

Department of Microbial Infection & Immunity

Mariann writes:

Good evening beloved TWiV-team (and TWiX-teams really),

It is 8 °C, pitch-dark  and the usual rain at what I very often describe as the very left-hand end bit of the UK (Falmouth, Cornwall, Southwest England). I am a postdoc researcher at the Cornwall campus of the University of Exeter and I love your shows – especially TWiV. Sometimes, when planning experiments, I actually look forward to seemingly endless colony and plaque counting, just because that means that I get to binge TWiV! Unfortunately, most tasks demand more attention and I can’t risk messing up my experiments! I am a huge fan and admire the time and effort you put into every podcast.

I have a somewhat medium-sized favour to ask and since it is rather self-serving you can stop reading the letter out on the show at this stage if you prefer (if it ever makes it into the show that is).

The favours I’m asking for are advice, feedback and permission to link to TWiV on a project I am currently developing. In collaboration with Andrei Serpe (Instagram, a 3rd year Fine Art student at Falmouth University) I’m hoping to create a graphic novel called “Rock, Paper, Scissors – when microbes play games”. It’ll be composed of a graphic novel section, followed by a more scientific summary of the events in the graphic novel, linking them to their respective research findings and some links for further reading. The graphic novel section is supposed to be comprehensible by 14-year olds whilst being equally appealing to adults. The summary might be a bit challenging for 14-year olds, but they will hopefully come back to it once they’ve gained more confidence and knowledge about the subjects in the graphic novel. To me it is important to spark the readers’ curiosity with the graphic novel, provide further information in form of the summary, but also offer additional reading sources. I was hoping to put links to either relevant TWiX episodes, or entries in the virology blog (e.g. the “are viruses alive” entry comes to mind – I think they are, but it is more of a “wanting them to be alive” than anything else…). We are currently applying to a few society outreach/public engagement grants in the UK to finance the full illustration of the graphic novel and cover printing costs for material that will be exhibited. We’ll hopefully hear back from end April onwards. The documents I’ve sent to you were partially financed by seed funding obtained from the ESI Creative Exchange Programme at my institute (ESI = Environment and Sustainability Institute). Fingers crossed for the other ones (or press your thumbs as one would say in Germany).

First question: Would it be ok with you and the teams if I put links to TWiX episodes or blog entries into the graphic novel?

Second question: Attached are the storyline I wrote, the portraits of the protagonists and the storyboard – all done by Andrei, and all confidential as this stage. The most desirable outcome is the publication of “Rock, Paper, Scissors – when microbes play games” and since neither of us have experience with publishers, we don’t want to spoil our chances with publishers by generously sharing everything we have worked on, as tempting as that is. That said, we do have a tumblr page (in English, German and French), where we put some sketches, updates and the character designs (hoping that this is allowed). I am sure you are all very busy, but if you happen to have a spare minute, could you please have a look through the files I have sent to you and let me know what you think, if it’s appropriate and most importantly if there is anything horrendously wrong with it? I can’t thank you enough for this! Just a warning: the order of events in the storyline and storyboard have changed a little to reduce the amount of time jumps.

Last question: Again, if you don’t want to read this, just leave it out. Do you have any advice or suggestions, or know anyone who can help us get a publisher? Andrei and I have no experience on how and who to approach and welcome any help you can offer.

Thanks a million for your help and keep making TWiV (I have more colonies to count soon!)!

All the best,


Ps mainly for Rich: Giant Microbes is finally making Smallpox (in case you’re reading this on the show: a smallpox plush toy, not the actual virus)! I need to get that one, I worked on vaccinia for my PhD and love it!

Pps my pick! I found this at an “Microbiome” exhibition at the “Eden Project”, which is an old clay quarry turned into biomes. The video “Bellyvision Apparatus and the Like” is made by Owl’n’wolf, a Cornish design studio – most of it are references to British TV series, but I think you know a lot of them.

Ppps last one and self-serving again: My current contract is coming up soon and I am looking for a new project! If you don’t mind, please get the word out that there’s a highly motivated postdoc looking for a new challenge within the field of infectious diseases – ideally viruses vs (innate) immune responses/cell defences (uni profile). I also have a talk at this year’s annual conference of the Microbiology Society

Brian writes:

I listen to your podcast every night, going back to older episodes to get me through until new ones are posted. I find it inspirational in these dark times to listen to the erudite seek scientific truth when the world is drowning in folly and lies. Thank you.

Raihan writes:

Dear TWiV team,

I apologise for this late response and I hope no one has answered this question already, but on TWiV 455, during a discussion of organ donation, Dr Dove mentioned that if organ donation was an opt-out rather than an opt-in situation, things would be so much more better. Prof Condit then asked if there was any place that has the opt-out system in place to which no one on the panel knew the answer.

I’d like to proudly say that in my native country, Singapore, all of us are by default organ donors. Please check out the following link from our Ministry of Health web portal:


Majulah Singapura! – a local cheer in our national language, Malay, meaning ‘Onwards Singapore’

**The letter B was not capitalised in this email out of respect to the departed who have donated their organs for the betterment of the lives of others**

Your faithful (but sometimes not so punctual) listener,


Anthony writes:

Comparing bats to birds.

Birds’ breathing is much more efficient than that of mammals.  


This superior capacity is thought to have preceded flight.

Bats have a range of adaptations to enable metabolism for flight with mammal lungs.



Bob writes:

From an article on Slashdot:

“Artificial intelligence could speed up metagenomic studies that look for species unknown to science. From a report:

Researchers have used artificial intelligence (AI) to discover nearly 6,000 previously unknown species of virus. The work illustrates an emerging tool for exploring the enormous, largely unknown diversity of viruses on Earth. Although viruses influence everything from human health to the degradation of trash, they are hard to study. Scientists cannot grow most viruses in the lab, and attempts to identify their genetic sequences are often thwarted because their genomes are tiny and evolve fast.

For the latest study, Simon Roux, a computational biologist at the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI) in Walnut Creek, California, trained computers to identify the genetic sequences of viruses from one unusual family, Inoviridae. These viruses live in bacteria and alter their host’s behaviour: for instance, they make the bacteria that cause cholera, Vibrio cholerae, more toxic. But Roux, who presented his work at the meeting in San Francisco, California, organized by the JGI, estimates that fewer than 100 species had been identified before his research began. Roux presented a machine-learning algorithm with two sets of data — one containing 805 genomic sequences from known Inoviridae, and another with about 2,000 sequences from bacteria and other types of virus — so that the algorithm could find ways of distinguishing between them.”