Jason writes:

Hello everyone!

First, I have to thank you for putting an enormous smile on my face by reading my letter about XKCD in episode 791. I saved it on my phone to play whenever I need an emotional boost. 

Before my pick I want to let you know the impact you’re having well outside of virology. I just got off the phone with a coworker who asked “What do you think about the vaccines, and the strains and people getting sick even after two shots?”  He’s a smart guy who’s just besieged by (mostly junk) from all sides so I reached into my biochemistry background and, more importantly, what I’ve learned from TWIV to help explain how mRNA vaccines work, that they’re designed to prevent severe illness and death but not infection, why they continue to work against Delta and friends, etc. He said it helped a lot and now he’s set on vaccinating his grade-school kids once that’s an option – and I owe that to you.

Now for a somewhat unusual pick: Are any of you into home automation? I’ve been dabbling for years, with home-assistant as the nerve center because of its cost ($0), power, ease of use and flexibility.  How flexible? Recent episode “Using Home Assistant to sequence COVID-19” features a researcher from Drexel University who goes into detail about how he turned a hobby into ways to save significant time, money and effort in his lab. He’s not a coder, so I’d bet other listeners could do it too. The web site, home-assistant.io and its podcast are great places to learn more, and I’ll be happy to answer questions too, though I’m far from an SME (Subject Matter Expert – a very common term in the tech field. :-)).  

Thanks again for the information, education, entertaining banter (“This Week In Flyology?) and sanity.


PS: In case you’re interested, some of my uses for home-assistant are: watering plants in my skylight based on soil dryness; opening a garage door and turning on lights when my car is near the foot of my driveway; turning off those lights once I’m inside; toggling a light outside my office when I’m on a work call (useful for the incubator, Vincent?) so the family knows I’m busy; and the usual like adjusting thermostats, controlling physical devices with Siri, etc.  It’s a lot of fun and the barrier to entry is shockingly low.  Again, I’m happy to help if you’d like!

Alena writes:

Hey, Vincent and all of our “This Week In” friends!

It’s currently 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 20 Celsius, and a stunning autumn day in New York’s Hudson Valley.

I recently came across this simple, little online game and thought y’all might get a kick out of it: 



As the player, your role is to save your host organisms from being infected by a virus. To do this, you need to change your host’s receptor shapes. The more that match the virus spike proteins, the more likely an infection is. 

It’s created by the University of Bath, the Milner Centre for Evolution, and the UK Natural Environmental Research Council — would love to know your thoughts on this particular teaching tool. (Other than the fact that it’s adorable.) 

Anyway, thank you for the podcast — I’ve learned more about the microbial world than I ever thought possible!