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TWiV 118 Letters

Jenny writes:

Hi TWiVers,

I'm currently listening to episode 84-Gators go viral and I'm so excited to hear you talk about my virus, EHV1, even if it was only briefly and I decided it was finally time to write you guys a letter.

I am a PhD student in Melbourne, Australia. I found TWiV when I attended ASV in Bozeman (in a strange coincidence I am actually wearing the T-shirt from the meeting) and have been busily trying to catch up on past episode. I actually meet Vincent and was fortunate enough to sit with him and Karla Kirkegaard at dinner following the live TWiV session. I love the addition of Rich to the group because he always asks or make the comments I would ask if I was part of the conversation, sometimes I even talk to the radio when I'm listening in the car. I've recently been collecting samples about 2 hours out of Melbourne almost everyday and that has really helped me catch up.

So I have a question and a suggestion:

The question is about Vaccinia. From what I understand (which may be wrong) Vaccinia is the virus that causes cowpox or is very closely related to it. Is it still around in the environment and does it still cause disease in cows? If so can people become naturally infected with Vaccina?

My suggestion is for you to get someone in to talk about EHV1 because it's a really interesting virus and a very important veterinary pathogen (I might be biased). It can cause, apart from the respiratory disease and abortions you mentioned on episode 84, a serious melyoencephalitis that was classified as a potentially emerging disease by the USDA in 2007. One of the main focuses of my research is why we see much lower levels of this form of the disease in Australiaas well as trying to understand the pathogenesis. A paper that has had a big impact on reseach into the virus is Nugent el at JOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, Apr. 2006, p. 4047–4060 and would be a good place to start if you were interested.

I love the podcast and am dreding catching up because then I will have to wait a week between episodes. I recommend it to anyone who will listen but I don't think I've converted that many people yet. Most people think I'm a bit strange for thinking viruses are fascinating.

Sorry if any of this doesn't make sense I've been in the lab since 5AM.

Keep up the great work and I'll keep listening and telling people,


Conor writes:

Hi Twivers (or Twivists),

As everyone says, love the show. It gives me a great view of virology outside of my own work in HIV. I just wanted to send on 2 papers from the HIV field which may help in answering the question posited by Pretesh in TWiV 107 about the distribution of glycoproteins on the surface of virions. It has been shown in the interaction between HIV and CCR5 that multiple chemokine receptors are required for successful viral entry (Kuhmann et al 2000). Also as multiple glycoprotein trimers are involved in the receptor interactions, the majority of the virion surface trimers are present at the site of interaction with the host cell (Sougrat et al 2007). These results indicate that the distribution of glycoproteins is not only heterogeneous across the virion surface but plays a major role in the binding of host receptors during cell entry.

I hope those papers shed some light on this topic. Thanks again for all the great weekly info.



(In transit between NUI Galway, Ireland and Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada)

Paper links:



Noel writes:

Dear Vincent Racaniello and Dick Despommier,

I am an undergraduate and just signed up for a biology of viruses. I am starting a little undergrad research with Candida albicans. I asked the professor in charge of my research if there were any viruses that infect C. albicans. We went on talking about how it's hard for a virus to break through the membrane to infect it and there is little research about it. We figured out that we could do a little experiment using histone deacetylase inhibitors to manipulate the expressed genes, and we could possibly see viral DNA if it exists in the different strains of C. albicans we have. I am brand new to virology and brand new to research. I would personally be grateful if you two did a TWiV about viruses in fungi and maybe the modern techniques of research within this growing field.

Very Respectfully,


Cheryl writes:

Hello! I first want to say, you guys make two excellent podcasts-keep up the fantastic work!

I have a few questions:

Can someone taking immune suppressants be at an increased risk of developing cancer? If yes, how so? My guess is yes.

Can you guys make an episode about the Tanapox virus? I worked in a virology lab at Western Michigan University and the model there is Tanapox. I learned more basic lab techniques and watched the graduate students using tanapox, but sometimes they were too busy and couldn't explain everything that they were doing, which I totally understand. So then I would then try to read the articles but a lot of the time it became rather difficult as I had not taken any virology or immunology courses. I don't know, I just think it would be really neat to hear you guys discussing about it. It seems to me that viruses can open to the doors to help fight cancer or help detect other non-viral diseases.

I obviously want to learn more about virology and immunology and at the point where I've just graduated and I'm trying to find what exactly where I want to focus my energy, where do I want to do an internship... where to find a job... perhaps continue my education... I need to read a lot more... Although, your podcasts are a tremendous help.

I think this article is also cool: "Differential Susceptibility of Human Cancer Cell Lines to Wild-Type Tanapoxvirus Infection" Hui Lin Lee and Karim Essani


I love also the virology 101 podcasts. :)

Also, I really would like it if the TWiP podcast was more than just once a month!

Sorry for the quick changing subjects of this email! I hope some of it made sense...

cheers from Northern Germany


Mary writes:

Hi gang,

Just listened to episode 101 and thought of a good YouTube link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM) that you may or may not be aware of. It is called Sugar, the Bitter Truth, which is a seminar given by Dr. Robert Lustig of UCSF. This seminar is a great combination of science (good & bad), politics, sociology, and epidemiology, making a solid case for sugar being a major culprit in today's obesity epidemic. As a scientist (virologist by training), I found this seminar a very compelling and I recommend this as viewing to anyone interested in this topic. I don't remember seeing this as anyone's pick on TWIV, so I thought I would pass this along. Watch it, and I would like to know what all of you think of it.

Keep up the good podcasts! mary

Sam writes:

Thank you for your comments on this topic.

I love your programme having been a fan of Twit, but not so enwrapped now, i find your podcast somehow as nourishing as chicken soup. :)

This topic is not going to go away so maybe at some time you might do a programme on the original viral break through and how that paradigm shift has played out since then.

I was surprised that DNA can be so precisely manufactured and ordered off the shelf even. This is the infrastructure that you guys are now laying which will support future research and development.

I must say that the mechanisms and organisms involved lead me to think of cyborg as a really useful descriptor of current methodology. Some may hope to be completely synthetic by a certain date , but as you say we really do not understand how to go down that route. some are trying though and maybe you could comment on that in this programme.

Some links for your programme on artificial virus: http://www.microbeworld.org/index.php?option=com_jlibrary&view=article&id=3890

Jason writes:

Hi there,

I'm not a virologist, nor any other medical professional, but I am a TWiV listener. It's fun to expand my horizons every once in a while.

I have a question about the Influenza vaccine. Should a person with a family history of autoimmune disease, specifically Rheumatoid Arthritis, avoid getting the flu shot? If not, do they run a higher risk of an autoimmune reaction?


Jason 'XenoPhage'

Bunny writes:

Dear Professors, et al,

Can't help but think of HeLa cells during each episode I listen to now after having read about Henrietta Lacks' immortal life. What a delight to find my favorite podster referred to in the book. Makes me curious if there is anything any of you could add to the story. I'm curious about the continued use of these cells, ethical issues re: the use of cells obtained in this manner, or anything else you might want to comment on to fill in the next chapter, so to speak, of this science story.

Keep up the chatter. Enjoy the show a great deal. And..who couldn't love a podcast hosted by guys with names making them sound like rivals straight out of a romance novel!


Portland Oregon

Mudaliar writes:

Respected sir,

I am a PhD scholar working in virology. I would like to know what MOI should i use to infect cells so that

1) all cells are infected

2) High amplification of virus is achieved when, strictly one replication cycle of virus is permitted

3) Least no of defective interfering particles are achieved.

Eagerly waiting for your kind response.

Yours truly


PhD Scholar,


Doug writes:

I have a question regarding your discussion of the rapid rate of spread of the obesity epidemic. You commented that the change in diet could not account for the rapid rate, however there was no discussion of the introduction of genetically modified foods which has somewhat paralleled the obesity epidemic. Do you think there is any possibility that genetically modified foods may be contributing to the rising rates of obesity? Hamish mentioned that there was no high-fructose corn syrup in Europe, but what he didn't mention is that there is also no genetically modified food in Europe.



Charles writes:

Dear TWIV Team

Could I start by saying how much I enjoy your podcasts. I am a 51 year-old software engineer in York, England, who gave up Chemistry at age 16 and Biology even earlier when I was only 11, and yet listening to TWIV I am developing a deep interest in Virology. I love your camaraderie, and the way you bring complicated topics down to a level which even I can start to understand.

Listening to one of your recent podcasts you mentioned double-stranded circular DNA. The question I would like to ask is, if a strand of DNA had complementary ends, say a GTAG at one end and a CATC at the other, whether it is possible for to join its ends together using base-base pairings, so that it ends up somewhere in between being single or double-stranded? I suppose the end case for this would be a strand of DNA in the form of a mobius loop.

Please keep your podcasts coming.

Kindest regards,


Sheldon writes:


Although they aren't viruses, could you please explain how virus like particles are created and used in vaccines like Gardasil and Cervarix? And that are being developed for flu vaccines as explained here


It seems somehow magical that you can build something that is structurally a virus on the outside, but is essentially an empty shell. And that VLPs may be better than inactivated vaccines because you get the all of the outside of the virus rather than perhaps just broken parts (split virion flu vaccine) or selected parts (sub unit flu vaccine).




Eric Delwart writes:


whiie not strictly speaking a virology story the paper describing a laboratory selected bacteria able to replicate in the absence of phosphate but with arsenic appears to show that even the basic structure of DNA can rapidly evolve to a new shape. That rather remarkable and surprising conclusion, if confirmed, indicates just how flexible our genetic material can be not only in sequence but in actual chemical composition. Amazing conclusions require amazingly strong evidence and at this point skepticism is probably warranted but it would certainly be interesting to see what a double helix or a tRNA with its phosphate replaced by arsenic look like and how they can possibly function. On face value the NASA researcher appear to have selected a life form stranger than all those previously known whose genetic information is encoded by a different form of DNA. It does remind us that viral RNA and DNA genomes can also be extensively chemically modified and yet still function perfectly well although a modification of their backbone forming phosphate connections has never been reported.


Jing writes:

Dear virologists,

I'm a graduate student at boston university department of biophysics and I work on structure basis for poliovirus replication. I love your podcast show, great work and I really appriciate the time and effort you put into it.

The topics of whether viruses are alive or not has occured in your show multiple times. I'd like to view life in the structual prospect: that is anything has the ability to decrease its entropy is alive. Since viruses encode proteins that self-assemble into highly organized capsid (turn randomness into order), they have the glory of life.


Luke writes:

Hello TWiV hosts,

I know that there is a fair amount of work being done looking for therapeutic molecules in both plants and bacteria. Considering that viruses have to modulate the host response, I would imagine that they would also be a good source for such molecules. Are people looking into viruses for these kinds of things and if so, what're the ways they go about it and what kinds of pitfalls are encountered. Thanks for the entertaining show - you hear a lot about how scientists don't do enough to communicate their work to the general public and this podcast format is a great way to remedy that problem.




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