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TWiV 88 Letters

Sharon writes:

Hello fellow virus lovers,

I first want to comment about Vincent's pick of the week a few weeks back, the book "Polio" by David Oshinsky. I am currently studying poliovirus in Julie Pfeiffer's lab (as you revealed many moons ago with a previous email I sent), and I received this book as a gift from my mother. David Oshinsky was in San Angelo, TX (my home town, and in the first sentence of the book) speaking about his book and receipt of the Pulitzer Prize and doing a signing. My mom attended the event and subsequently purchased a book for she and I. I love it! This is a wonderful historical perspective of the societal impact of poliovirus and impending vaccine "arms race" between Salk and Sabin that you don't necessarily get from Pubmed. This book has been circulating in our lab for a while now and I recommend it to anyone.

I would like to recommend a pick of the week that I think hasn't been suggested yet. It's a PBS special called "Naturally Obsessed" (http://naturallyobsessed.com/). The film (~1 hour long) is a documentary that follows 3 graduate students in the pursuit of their PhDs and the divergent routes they take. We watched the video for a lab meeting, and all sympathized with the students in the video in regards to the rigor (and dissapointments of mountains of negative data) of graduate school. It does have a happy ending!

One more short mention. I have listened to every TWIV podcast and have heard you all ask several times if anyone is studying gastrointestinal (commensal) bacterial effects on viruses. No one to date has published on this subject, but keep an eye out. :)

As always, I love the podcast! Thank you for broadening my virology knowledge!



Andrew writes:

Dear TWiV,

I'm an second year undergraduate in Genetics at the Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I've been listening to TWiV for about a year now and I find it fascinating! I had not been much interested in viruses until I discovered your podcast and took a introductory virology module this year, but now I'm considering the field of virology as a long term career.

What caught my eye the most within my Virology course is the idea of virus-mediated gene therapy, something that (and I could be wrong) I don't remember you talking about on the show. My sister is affected by Type 2 Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a condition which is caused by the loss of the SMN1 (Survival Motor Neurone 1) gene and my question is,

How far away are we from being able to successfully carry out gene therapy for genes such as this?

My thoughts are: that one of the main problems would be the size, from my basic knowledge I know we have successfully put GFP (Green Jellyfish Protein) into a measles virus and had it express GFP in ferrets etc, but genes like the SMN1 gene are considerably bigger (28kbp as supposed to the 1kbp GFP) so, what are the current and theoretical limits of gene size we can integrate into viral genomes?

And finally, what would be stopping us from simply building our own viruses to deliver the genes? I've heard about the poliovirus which was built from scratch because the sequence was known and it was simply ordered as primers and put together to create a live virus, but with lots of different strains of different viruses being sequenced and publicly available, wouldn't it be possible to engineer and build a fit to purpose virus? It seems locigal to me that you could take different sequences from wild viruses and create a viral genome of your own. A capsid protein from here, a reverse transcription enzyme from there, a replicase enzyme from somewhere else and so on. Could it be possible that we could greate a virus that would give a persistent infection of the appropriate tissues that shows little or no harmful cytopathic effect and delivers your missing gene?

I would love to hear you talk about this on the show, look forward to my TWiV fix every week,


Andrew in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Brent writes:

Hi Guys, excellent podcast for IT business analyst with no virus knowledge. Just wondering about flu/cold transmission in the household. Would sharing toothpaste be a valid way to transmit easily. I figure it would ie person with cold , toothpaste tube to brush, mouth to brush, next person has toothpaste tube to brush, brush to mouth. or it this paranoia :). or does tooth paste kill it? interesting :)

Would it be a high chance of catching the cold?



James writes:

Hello Twiv,

Thank you for putting together a great podcast. My question refers to the podcast “Gators go Viral,” in which you talk about viruses attacking cancer cells (jaw dropper). I was wondering and it might be a little early to talk about this but is there any chance of evolution/resistance in these cancer cells when you expose them to this virus treatment.

Thank you,



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