Lori writes:

Hello TWiVers,

75 F, 24 C and raining in Tomball Texas.

I really enjoyed the interview with Moshe Arditi and Ivet Bahar.  I don’t know very much about super antigens but maybe will learn more about them as I continue to listen to past TWiV episodes, I am at 288 and still have almost 300 episodes to go before I am caught up.  

I was thinking about the possible connection of super antigens, HLA and Neuropathology that was discussed in episode 815 and am wondering if a similar mechanism could partially explain why the polio virus can cause paralysis in some individuals? 

As well, could you explain reassortment versus recombination?  Is reassortment a type of recombination but recombination is not necessarily reassortment?  

Keep doing what you are doing, thanks.  


John writes:


First some background, my wife and I are vaccinated.  (We both volunteered to help give out the vaccines.)  Naturally my 5 year old isn’t vaccinated yet.

I saw that Pfizer had applied for authorization in 5 to 12 year olds based on a RCT of 3000 children.  I hesitate to ask, as I don’t want to give fodder for anti-vaxxers, but…

I was wondering will we be able to tell the difference in risk between covid and the pfizer vaccine based on this study?  The risk of severe outcomes for children in those age groups is so low, that in a study of only 3000 there may not even be a severe adverse event in either leg.  Thus, how can parents know if the vaccine or covid is worse?  Is there other information that will also come out that clearly shows which is safer?  Or maybe in this study will there be data that correlates to severe outcomes?  Or…?



Anne writes:

Among Dr. Despommier’s many notable accomplishments, this one is also noteworthy: https://techcrunch.com/2021/10/10/on-ten-years-of-the-vertical-farm/

I love his watercolors!  Does he plan to sell them?  I would love to own one.



Lise writes:

Your discussion about Alfred Nobel’s original bequest and how it differs from the norms of present-day Nobel Prize awards brings to mind a bit of science history which may or may not have something to do with why present-day awards seldom get awarded soon after a major discovery.

Did you know that Enrico Fermi got his Nobel Prize for a mistake?

The thing he got wrong was kind of significant: everyone thought he had demonstrated “the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation” while actually, the thing he had missed was nuclear fission.

Here’s the story behind that. Neutrons were first discovered in 1932. One of the ideas this inspired among physicists and chemists who specialized in radiation was the possibility of creating elements in the laboratory that had never been found in nature. It was already suspected that elements heavier than uranium could exist, but just hadn’t been observed because those elements would be radioactive and any that once existed on earth would have decayed long before there were scientists to discover them.

Four different teams of scientists raced to be the first to generate those elements in the laboratory. Ernest Rutherford headed a team in the UK, Irène Joliot-Curie headed a team in France, Enrico Fermi had the advantage because he had access to a richer uranium source than anybody else. The underdogs in that race were the team in Berlin, which despite the time and place was run by anti-Nazi Germans and a Jewish woman. It was that woman who figured out Fermi’s mistake six weeks after he received his Nobel Prize.

Lise Meitner was a physicist born and educated in Vienna. She moved to Berlin after getting her doctorate and her earlier achievements included discovery of the atomic element protactinium-231. Life got difficult in the 1930s for obvious reasons but her Austrian citizenship gave a measure of protection until Germany annexed Austria in 1938. Afterward she escaped to the Netherlands on a midnight train carrying nothing but a weekend suitcase of belongings. From there she settled in Sweden. Meanwhile it looked like Fermi had won that scientific race she had been working on for several years.

Yet in January of 1939 while she was taking a walk with her nephew Otto Robert Frisch (who was also a physicist), she mulled on the newest letter from her collaborator, chemist Otto Hahn who was still working in Berlin. Hahn had isolated radioactive barium from the results of uranium bombardments, and he was confident that wasn’t caused by sample contamination. Those results made no sense to Hahn at all.

Together with her nephew, Meitner realized that barium might have resulted from fission of the uranium, and if that was correct then they predicted krypton would also be present in the same sample, since the atomic numbers of krypton and barium would add up to the atomic number of uranium. Meitner and Frisch also realized those results would involve a slight loss of mass, which would mean a release of energy. They also worked out the possibility of a chain reaction. In other words, it was Meitner and Frisch who recognized the real world applicability of Einstein’s  E = mc2 equation.

Reportedly, Neils Bohr’s reaction to this finding was to slap his forehead and exclaim, “What idiots we have been!”

For political reasons it was impossible for Meitner and Frisch to share authorship on a paper with Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann: the latter two were still working in Berlin. At the time when Meitner fled Germany she had been on Himmler’s short list for arrest, just because of her ethnic background. So on 10 and 11 February 1939 Hahn and Strassmann published their chemistry results in one paper and Meitner and Frisch published their physics calculations separately. The impact of those papers was spectacular.

Frisch subsequently accepted an invitation to work in Los Alamos, and later expressed regrets at how nuclear weapons were used at the end of the war. At the time he thought his research would help to stop Hitler.

Fritz Strassmann’s name is now inscribed on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem: Strassmann and his wife rescued a Jewish concert pianist from the Holocaust by hiding her in their Berlin apartment throughout the war.

Otto Hahn received a solo Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944. For the rest of his life Hahn maintained that chemistry alone discovered nuclear fission. His private correspondence of 1938 and 1939 contradicts that claim.

Lise Meitner turned down an invitation to Los Alamos because she refused to work on a bomb. In 1997 the atomic element #109 was named Meitnerium in her honor, making her the first (and as far as I know the only) scientist who was active during the Nobel era who has an element named after them without also earning a Nobel Prize.

Mistakes of that magnitude are probably missteps the Nobel Committee doesn’t want to repeat. That might explain why scientific discoveries rarely get honored as swiftly as they used to several generations ago. Maybe they’ll decide mRNA vaccine technology has proven itself definitively enough that it doesn’t need to be evaluated with reticence.

Cheers and thanks from a devoted TWiV listener. And if it’s OK to suggest a listener pick, Ruth Lewin Sime’s biography Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics makes an excellent read.



Valle Vista, CA

P.S. My father was a graduate student in physics when I was born and wanted to name his child after a scientist, so rather than do the obvious thing and name me Marie he chose another physicist nobody could spell.

Walter writes:


This is a picture of the small hotel/guest house in Kungälv Sweden where Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch stayed during Christmas 1938 when uranium fission was discussed. The house is still there but now a private residence.

Like so many others I have become a regular listener to TWiV since the corona outbreak and found your podcast educational and enjoyable. Since I live in Kungälv I thought I should send this picture. I also send a close-up of the plaque on the wall which in short tells the story in Swedish, German and English.

Kind regards,


Lori writes:

Hello My Friends,

74F , 23C, sunny with blue skies in Tomball TX.

Today on my walk I was listening to the Down Under episode of TWiV from 2014 and learned about retroviruses and Chlamydia infection in Koalas. During the interview Peter Timms’ work on testing a vaccine against Chlamydia was mentioned, and your guest, Paul Young, said that he was working with Dr Timms to use the vaccination opportunity to test for KoRV ( koala retrovirus).

What a great feeling it was when I got home, opened my email from Nature Briefing and saw that “A Chlamydia vaccine was being rolled out in Australia “. Perfect timing to capture my interest!   However, after reading the article the first question that came to my mind was “what about the retroviruses?”

So, I did a search and found a review article from 2020 by Quigley and Timms and was able to find my answers there.

Thanks to listening to TWiV and Virology Live,  I was actually able to understand most of what I was reading. Really appreciate what you guys and gals do.  You keep my retired brain happy.  

Thanks so much.


Brandon writes:

Hey Vincent, Dickson, Rich, Kathy, Brianne, and Dr Daniel,

It’s 21 degrees Celsius and a beautiful clear blue sky here in Bluffton SC and

Thank y’all so much for the most interesting and engaging informative podcast.  I know almost nothing about virology and lots of what I hear on twiv  goes right over my head. That doesn’t matter at all as it’s a real honor and a privilege just to hear y’all’s conversations.

Trying to stay up on covid I ran into episode 795 clinical update with Dr Griffin.  I subscribed and have been listening avidly ever since. And Vincent  I really enjoyed episode 815 with Moshe Arditi and Ivet Bahar about superantigens. That was so fascinating.

Getting a glimpse of what science is all about, hearing the truth as y’all know it and hearing when y’all say you don’t know something  is so refreshing. There’s so much bs everywhere. Thanks again for all y’all’s hard work and thanks for setting this 75 year old mind on a new and amazing intellectual adventure. Oh and Thor’s Hammer is a great name for a pill.


Bluffton SC

Mark writes:

A question, some patients seem to be poor responders to the vaccine, for example Colin Powell. If you could predict that somebody would be a poor vaccine responder, could you give them monoclonal antibodies after you vaccinate them to give them better protection ? 

Jarvis Ontario 

Kathy writes:

Some time ago, I read that novavax was the only covid vaccine that in no way relied on, involved, or touched on embryonic stem cells and that it therefore would be a suitable vaccine for those claiming a religious exemption to vaccination. Is this true?