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TWiV 175 Letters

Jane writes:

Dear Vincent,

Just a quick email to say how wonderful it was to meet you yesterday in Amsterdam! I have been an avid TWiV listener since my first "TWiV experience" in 2009 and look forward to many more podcasts.

If you recall, I mentioned to you a book I thought you and your readers might enjoy: Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth, by Trevor Norton.

Prof Norton is Professor Emeritus at Liverpool University (UK), having retired in 2005 from the chair of Marine Biology. The book is described as "a hilarious celebration of the great eccentrics who have performed dangerous experiments on themselves for the benefit of humankind". I regard it as a witty and informative romp through the history of scientific discovery, and the self-experimentation practised by the bravest!

I hope you enjoy your upcoming visit to Dublin and congratulations on (yet another) award!

With warmest regards,

Jane, MD MPH

Mark writes:

re poultry staggerers:

Marek's disease would be worthy of consideration, but there are a number of other possible aetiologies (rye grass staggers, dietary deficiences).


Chris writes:

Hi Vince, Rich, Alan, and Dickson,

This is a long overdue e-mail to express my gratitude to you all. I am an Assistant Professor in Virology at UT Austin and have been hooked on your show since I became a new dad ~18 months ago (I’ll get back to that later). I would like to briefly highlight some of the ways TWiV has helped me:

First, as an educator- I teach an upper level undergraduate course on Animal Virology. There is no doubt that I am a better teacher because of TWiV. My breadth of knowledge of virology is greatly expanded as a result of my weekly TWiV fix. As a result of this, the students think I am smarter than I actually am! Your show has inspired an ongoing experiment in my class where as a teaching tool, we incorporate a student-selected current event relevant to virology. Topics typically come from the lay press and are scientifically dissected at the beginning of every class. This appears to be a big hit with the students, especially those who came into the course as a forced requirement as part their degree plan. Rightfully so, nothing peaks a student’s interest more than the relevance and timeliness of the topic. In addition, my students are offered as extra credit the option of summarizing an episode of TWiV. Typically, 60 of my ~90 students opt to participate in this exercise and their response has been very positive– several like it so much that they end up listening to many episodes.

Second, your show has helped me to be a better scientist. In addition to increasing my knowledge of tangential fields and new techniques, there have been several times where a new line of experimentation for my lab has emerged from TWiV. One example that comes to mind came from something Rich said (I believe) regarding consideration of temperature in experiments (I believe this was with regards to temperature sensitive mutants). This dialogue on your show made us consider the simple idea that temperature could account for the lack of an infectious tissue culture model for an upper respiratory virus that we are studying. We don’t yet know if this is the answer to our problems as we are still waiting for the new cooler temperature incubator to arrive. Nonetheless, this is a reasonable hypothesis to test, and this entire line of experimentation was inspired by TWiV.

Also in regards to how your show helps scientists, I must mention the “TWiV bump”. I believe that at least Alan is a Colbert Report fan based on his reference to “truthiness” on TWiV. As you may know, Stephen Colbert claims that artists who have their work mentioned on his show benefit in terms of recognition, sales, prestige, etc.– he refers to this as the “Colbert Bump”. I think it is obvious that this is also true for scientists whose work is mentioned on TWiV. In TWiV 174 you profiled a paper from my lab. Mere hours after that episode was released I was contacted by two different colleagues offering me their congratulations (and envy). You should know that it is a career goal of many of us younger virologists to get the “TWiV Bump”!

Finally, it is also true that you make parenthood easier! When I was a brand new dad and got to spend hours and hours with my son Sam, TWiV served a valuable role. Sam and I would go on long walks and TWiV made the time fly by while appealing to my sense of productivity. So not only is your show helping research professors and high school students alike, arguably it serves a positive role for some infants too!

In summary, I am grateful to you all. Knowing first hand the demands on a faculty member’s time (and imagining it’s similar being a free lance writer/reporter), I don’t know how you find the time to do this. It is a wonderful service to science and science education. As an NSF-funded researcher, I hope the NSF sees the value in what you are doing, and ends up supporting TWiV. I hope you keep up the TWiVing for a very long time!

Many thanks,


PS- We are trying to come up with a creative way to invite at least two of you to meet some of the faculty and do a show from here at UT Austin. As you know, there are several fans of TWiV here and Austin is a great city. I hope it all works out and that you will decide to come visit us.


Christopher S. Sullivan, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Dept. Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

The University of Texas at Austin

April writes:

Hi Vincent et al.,

Great show this week! On the note of coffee makers, this one beats them all for taste IMHO. Plus it's made in the Berkshires! Check out: http://www.chemexcoffeemaker.com/

Keep up the great work!! I really enjoy the podcast on my commute from the Berkshire to Albany.


April, Ph.D.

The David Axelrod Institute

Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research

Ayesha writes:

Dear TWIVlanders,




In trying to form an opinion on the subject, I'd love to hear what you have to say on the matter and why Elsevier are lobbying for this Bill. What will it mean? I'm a bit unclear.


Tessa writes:

Hello TWiV!

I'm rounding up my 4th year in my thesis lab and currently, the stacks of half-read/highlighted/triply-printed-papers are starting to take over all usable space on my desk. Help! I think the only way I can keep sane in graduate school is by keeping myself organized and regular doses of therapeutic humor from PhD Comics (www.phdcomics.com). Technology is getting so sophisticated. Do you know of an online service where a person can electronically accumulate and organize all of these pdfs, be able to search for key words, highlight, add notes, etc. and be accessible from any computer (lab or home)?

I'm super excited to attend a live recording of TWiV this summer at the ASV annual meeting hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Thanks to you guys I've proudly embraced my virology geekiness! Sharing the same sentiments as all your listeners, keep up the good work!

~Tessa, Ph.D. Candidate, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA

Kathryn writes:

Dear regular Twivsters and guests.

I listened to your last episode (#168) while chilling out in the hospital. What better place to learn about viruses.

I enjoyed the pick of Dr. Racaniello. I agree with the point of view of the teacher (as an ESL teacher myself). I can stand on my head and do back flips. The ones who want to be learning English do their homework and participate in class. The ones forced there do just the opposite or worse. They disrupt class or demand (not ask politely) to play games. Part of my teaching philosophy is to get the kids to learn without them knowing they were learning. I remember fondly watching Mr. Wizard's World growing up. I didn't realize how much I learned through that show and how it helped me through elementary school science.

Interestingly if you google the name of the blog post, you get an article about a South Korean (where I'm located) pilot project using robots to teach English. The picture shown is not a typical elementary class where there are 30-40 students. And the conclusions made at the end are a direct shot at the foreign teachers.

I should explain the educational philosophy of S. Korea. Kids go to public school in the morning (and then longer as they reach middle and high school) where they study basic subjects. English education starts in the 3rd grade. Many then go to private academies for lessons in specific subjects. Those third graders who have been studying English since approximately the age of 4 are light years ahead of their peers who didn't go to English preschools (there is no mandatory kindergarten). While a foreign teacher has some kids learning basic phonics she has others not paying attention because they're learning more grammar than I know. In fact the government is planning on phasing out native speaking teachers by 2015. They say the students are more comfortable learning from an English speaking Korean teacher. The fact is, they can get away with speaking Korean in that model, but not with a native English teacher.

I teach at one of the private schools where I have student from 6 to 14. At least they're roughly grouped by ability. I do not allow students to use their cell phone dictionaries or portable dictionaries in my class room. I find the students use it as a crutch and don't learn to use context clues to find meaning. I have my phone and if we, as a class, can't figure it out, then I'll look it up and read the Korean word.

Now for my virus question. I'm working back through the archives and just listened to the one on virus structure. Please correct my interpretation if if I get it wrong. We start out with the simplest form such as TMV where the virome (sp?) is simply wrapped in protein. This only works primarily in plants. When we get to non plant hosts you can have a similar structure inclosed in a lipid protein. Am I understanding that this comes from the host cell as the virus replicates and breaks out of the cell. Did I miss a specific word for getting out of the cell? On another level of complexity up is the envelope. And here there are two layers of lipids with protein in the middle. What is the advantage of that? Does it make the virus more resistant to the hosts' immune defenses? The most complex is the protein shell. Describing it as such makes me assume that it is more rigid. Why is icosohedreal (sp?) the only type of symmetry? Wouldn't a cube be as simple? 6 squares vs 20 triangles. Does what exists in nature give the most bang from the virus's buck, so to say? it's the most rigid with the least parts? Or is there some underlying factor in the tertiary or quantinary form of the proteins themselves?

I again want to thank you for addressing my opinions and well, basic questions. If TWIV had existed 20 years ago, I might be a virologist. I do hope some of my students go on to be scientists as they have said when we talk about jobs and what we want to be when we grow up. I wish I had an answer for that last question for myself.


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