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Transmission of Ebola virus

09/27/2014
As the West African epidemic of Ebola virus grows, so does misinformation about the virus, particularly how it is transmitted from person to person. Ebola virus is transmitted from human to human by close contact with infected patients and virus-containing body fluids. It does not spread among humans by respiratory ...

What we are not afraid to say about Ebola virus

09/19/2014
In a recent New York Times OpEd entitled What We’re Afraid to Say About Ebola, Michaeal Osterholm wonders whether Ebola virus could go airborne: You can now get Ebola only through direct contact with bodily fluids. If certain mutations occurred, it would mean that just breathing would put one at risk ...

An outbreak of enterovirus 68

09/10/2014
During the winter of 1962 in California, a new virus was isolated from the oropharynx of 4 children who had been hospitalized with respiratory disease that included pneumonia and bronchiolitis. On the basis of its physical, chemical, and biological properties, the virus was classified as an enterovirus in the picornavirus ...

Poliovirus escapes antibodies

09/02/2014
Antigenic variation is a hallmark of influenza virus that allows the virus to evade host defenses. Consequently influenza vaccines need to be reformulated frequently to keep up with changing viruses. In contrast, antigenic variation is not a hallmark of poliovirus – the same poliovirus vaccines have been used for nearly ...

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and viruses and my ice bucket challenge

08/24/2014
Many people have a new awareness of the disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge initiated by the ALS Association. Fewer might know that retroviruses have been proposed to play a role in the development of the disease.

Zaire ebolavirus in West Africa

08/08/2014
Dr. Tom Solomon is Director of the Institute for Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool. In this video he speaks with Vincent Racaniello about the 2014 outbreak of Zaire ebolavirus in West Africa. Dr. Solomon discusses why the epidemic has spread, how it might be curtailed, the ...

Bats in Geelong

08/03/2014
After recording TWiV 296 with Linfa Wang, we drove to a nearby golf course. There we watched a colony of grey-headed flying foxes awaken and fly into the night.

Scientists for Science

08/02/2014
Scientists for Science are confident that biomedical research on potentially dangerous pathogens can be performed safely and is essential for a comprehensive understanding of microbial disease pathogenesis, prevention and treatment. The results of such research are often unanticipated and accrue over time; therefore, risk-benefit analyses are difficult to assess accurately. If ...

Visiting biosafety level-4 laboratories

07/15/2014
Experiments with the most dangerous human viruses, such as Ebola virus and Lassa virus, are carried out in biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories. Since visiting the Northeast Infectious Diseases Laboratory BSL-4 and releasing the documentary video Threading the NEIDL, I was given the opportunity to tour three BSL-4 laboratories in ...

Implications of finding poliovirus in sewers of Brazil and Israel

07/01/2014
Wild poliovirus has been detected in the sewers of Brazil and Israel. Fortunately, no cases of poliomyelitis have been reported in either country. Why is poliovirus present in these countries and what are the implications for the eradication effort? Wild type poliovirus (e.g. not vaccine-derived virus) was detected in sewage samples ...

Origin of segmented RNA virus genomes

06/13/2014
Segmented genomes abound in the RNA virus world. They are found in virus particles from different families, and can be double stranded (Reoviridae) or single stranded of (+) (Closteroviridae) or (-) (Orthomyxoviridae) polarity. Our recent discussion of the advantages of a segmented viral genome, compared with monopartitie genomes, generated a ...

Ten years of virology blog

06/06/2014
Ten years ago this month I wrote the first post at virology blog, entitled Are viruses living? Thanks to EE Giorgi for pointing out the ten year anniversary, and also for publishing an interview with me at her blog, Chimeras. Here is how this blog got started.

A WORD on the constraints of influenza virus evolution

05/23/2014
Evolution proceeds by selection of mutants that arise by error-prone duplication of nucleic acid genomes. It is believed that mutations that are selected in a gene are dependent on those that have preceded them, an effect known as epistasis. Analysis of a sequence of changes in the influenza virus nucleoprotein ...

Therapeutic teamwork: Coupling oncolytic viruses with immunotherapy to destroy tumor cells

05/21/2014
A recent study by scientists at the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy offers a new, multifaceted therapy for destroying tumors. A team of researchers led by Dmitriy Zamarin combined checkpoint blockade, a technique aimed at enhancing antitumor immune responses, with oncolytic viral therapy, a technique that uses viruses to kill ...

Should variola virus, the agent of smallpox, be destroyed?

05/17/2014
Later this month (May 2014) the World Health Assembly will decide whether to destroy the remaining stocks of variola virus – the agent of smallpox – or to allow continued research on the virus at WHO-approved laboratories. We are interested in your opinion on this issue. Please follow the link ...

Unusual mortality pattern of 1918 influenza A virus

05/02/2014
The 1918 influenza pandemic was particularly lethal, not only for the very young and the very old (as observed for typical influenza), but unexpectedly also for young adults, 20 to 40 years of age (pictured). It has been suggested that the increased lethality in young adults occurred because they lacked ...

Virology question of the week: why a segmented viral genome?

04/22/2014
This week’s virology question comes from Eric, who writes: I’m working on an MPH and in one of my classes we are currently studying the influenza virus. I’d forgotten that the genome is in 8 separate parts. Curious, I’ve been searching but can’t find any information as to why that is? What ...

Virology question of the week

04/09/2014
On the science show This Week in Virology we receive many questions and comments, which are read every week. I also get many questions here on virology blog, which I tend to answer by email. However I think that everyone could benefit from these questions, so I’ve decided to post ...

Retroviruses R us

04/04/2014
About eight percent of human DNA is viral – remnants of ancestral infections with retroviruses. These endogenous retroviral sequences do not produce infectious viruses, and most are considered to be junk DNA. But some of them provide important functions. The protein called syncytin, which is essential for formation of the ...

Heartland virus disease

03/28/2014
Six new cases of Heartland virus disease have been identified in residents of Missouri and Tennessee. The cause of this disease appears to be a member of the Phlebovirus genus in the Bunyaviridae family that was first identified in 2009 and appears to be transmitted by the Lone Star tick ...

Twenty-six lectures in virology

03/27/2014
In the spring of each year I teach a virology course to undergraduates and masters students at Columbia University. I produce video recordings of all my lectures not only for students in the course, but for anyone else who is interested in learning about viruses. You can find my virology lectures ...

HIV gets the zinc finger

03/20/2014
Because all animal viruses initiate infection by binding to a receptor on the cell surface, this step has long been considered a prime target for antiviral therapy. Unfortunately, drugs that block virus attachment to cells have never shown much promise. Another approach, which is to ablate the receptor from the ...

Attenuated influenza vaccine enhances bacterial colonization of mice

03/12/2014
Infection with influenza virus is known to increase susceptibility to bacterial infections of the respiratory tract. In a mouse model of influenza, increased bacterial colonization was also observed after administration of an infectious, attenuated influenza virus vaccine. Primary influenza virus infection increases colonization of the human upper and lower respiratory ...

Pithovirus: Bigger than Pandoravirus with a smaller genome

03/04/2014
A new virus called Pithovirus sibericum has been isolated from 30,000 year old Siberian permafrost. It is the oldest DNA virus of eukaryotes ever isolated, showing that viruses can retain infectivity in nature for very long periods of time.

Polio-like paralysis in California

02/27/2014
Recently a number of children in California have developed a poliomyelitis-like paralysis. The cause of this paralysis is not yet known, and information about the outbreak is scarce. However, acute-flaccid paralysis is not uncommon (California would be expected to report about 75 cases a year, based on its population). The ...

How to give a great lecture

02/21/2014
There are many elements that go into making a great lecture, but the most important one is to lose the notes. If you are giving lectures in a course at any level, the worst practice you can engage in is to rely on notes. This behavior is problematic for several ...

Yet another avian influenza virus, H10N8, infects humans

02/12/2014
To the collection of avian influenza viruses known to sporadically infect humans – H5N1, H7N9, H7N2, H7N3, H7N7, H9N2, and H10N7 – we can now add H10N8, recently found in two individuals in China. Avian influenza virus H10N8 was first detected in tracheal aspirates from a 73 year old woman ...

Why do viruses cause disease?

02/10/2014
Virulence, the capacity to cause disease, varies markedly among viruses. Some viruses cause lethal disease while others do not. For example, nearly all humans infected with rabies virus develop a disease of the central nervous system which ultimately leads to death. In contrast, most humans are infected with circoviruses with ...

Viral fiber art

01/19/2014
Viruses inspire many different types of art, but I was unaware of the number of people who make viruses out of fiber! Keep reading for some photographs of what I have found.

India has been free of polio for three years

01/13/2014
Three years ago today, on 13 January 2011, the last case of poliomyelitis was reported in India. This achievement represents a remarkable turnaround for a country where control of the disease had for years been extremely difficult. As recently as 2009 there were 741 confirmed cases of polio caused by ...

MERS-CoV genome found in dromedary camels

12/19/2013
Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), first identified in the fall of 2012 in a Saudi Arabian patient, has since infected over 160 individuals, causing 71 deaths. Identifying the source of infection is important for efforts to prevent further infections. Recently two studies revealed the presence of antibodies to the ...

Viral gifts

12/19/2013
If you are looking for the perfect present for that infectious person in your life, there are many microbe-themed possibilities. Here are some suggestions, from t-shirts, to watercolors, glass sculptures, and paper to wrap it in.

Changing influenza virus neuraminidase into a receptor binding protein

11/24/2013
The hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) glycoproteins of the influenza virus particle serve distinct functions during infection. The HA binds sialic acid-containing cellular receptors and mediates fusion of the viral and cell membranes, while the NA removes sialic acids from glycoproteins. Apparently this division of labor is not absolute: influenza ...

Influenza A viruses in bats

11/13/2013
It is well known that aquatic birds are a major reservoir of influenza A viruses, and that pandemic human influenza virus strains of the past century derive viral genes from this pool. The recent discovery of two new influenza A viruses in bats suggests that this species may constitute another ...

The neuraminidase of influenza virus

11/05/2013
The influenza virus particle is made up of the viral RNA genome wrapped in a lipid membrane (illustrated). The membrane, or envelope, contains three different kinds of viral proteins. The hemagglutinin molecule (HA, blue) attaches to cell receptors and initiates the process of virus entry into cells. I have written ...

John Holland, 83

11/01/2013
Virologist John Holland passed away on 11 October 2013. I asked former members of his laboratory for their thoughts on his career and what he meant to them.

Bat SARS-like coronavirus that infects human cells

10/30/2013
The SARS pandemic of 2002-2003 is believed to have been caused by a bat coronavirus (CoV) that first infected a civet and then was passed on to humans. The isolation of a new SARS-like coronavirus from bats suggests that the virus could have directly infected humans.

Virus-induced fever might change bacteria from commensal to pathogen

10/30/2013
Neisseria meningitidis may cause septicemia (bacteria in the blood) and meningitis (infection of the membrane surrounding the brain), but the bacterium colonizes the nasopharynx in 10-20% of the human population without causing disease. Although understanding how the bacterium changes from a commensal to a pathogen has been elusive, an important ...

World Polio Day

10/24/2013
As a virologist who has worked on poliovirus since 1979, I would be remiss if I did not note that today, 24 October, is World Polio Day. World Polio Day was established by Rotary International over a decade ago to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, who led the first ...

Hepatitis B viruses in bats

10/18/2013
Hepatitis B virus (HBV, illustrated) is a substantial human pathogen. WHO estimates that there are now 240,000,000 individuals chronically infected with HBV worldwide, of which 25% will die from chronic liver disease or hepatocellular carcinoma. The hepatitis B virus vaccine is highly effective at preventing infection. Because there are no ...

A saga of HeLa cells

10/09/2013
We have been using HeLa cells in my laboratory since 1982, when I arrived at Columbia University Medical Center fresh from postdoctoral work with David Baltimore at MIT. I brought with me a line of HeLa cells and used them for 30 years for our research on viruses. Here is ...

Incidence of asymptomatic human influenza A(H5N1) virus infection

10/01/2013
When virologists Fouchier and Kawaoka were isolating avian influenza H5N1 viruses that could transmit among ferrets by aerosol, there was consternation from some quarters that such viruses might escape from the laboratory and cause a pandemic in humans. Part of the fear came from the fact that the case fatality ...

Fouchier vs the Dutch government on influenza H5N1 research

09/27/2013
Readers of this blog will remember the furor sparked by Fouchier’s experiments in 2011 in which he developed an avian influenza H5N1 isolate that could transmit among ferrets by aerosol. When Fouchier was ready to publish the results, the Dutch government required that Fouchier apply for an export license. In ...

De-discovering pathogens: Viral contamination strikes again

09/18/2013
Do you remember the retrovirus XMRV, initially implicated as the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, and later shown to be a murine virus that contaminated human cells grown in mice? Another virus thought to be associated with human disease has recently been shown to be a contaminant, derived from a ...

A retrovirus makes chicken eggshells blue

09/12/2013
When you purchase chicken eggs at the market, they usually have white or brown shells. But some breeds of chicken produce blue or green eggs. The blue color is caused by insertion of a retrovirus into the chicken genome, which activates a gene involved in the production of blue eggs.

How many viruses on Earth?

09/09/2013
How many different viruses are there on planet Earth? Twenty years ago Stephen Morse suggested that there were about one million viruses of vertebrates (he arrived at this calculation by assuming ~20 different viruses in each of the 50,000 vertebrates on the planet). The results of a new study suggest ...

Inadvertent transfer of a mammalian retrovirus into birds

08/27/2013
Reticuloendotheliosis viruses (REVs) are retroviruses that cause a rare disease of gamebirds and waterfowl that includes anemia, immunosuppression, neoplasia, runting, and abnormal feathering. Since the first isolation of REV from a turkey in 1957, REVs were believed to be strictly avian viruses. It now appears that REVs are mammalian viruses ...

Part of MERS-CoV nucleotide sequence found in a bat

08/26/2013
What is wrong with this paragraph from today’s New York Times that describes the origin of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus: Health officials confirmed Wednesday that bats in Saudi Arabia were the source of the mysterious virus that has sickened 96 people in the Middle East, killing 47 of ...

Virologists plan influenza H7N9 gain of function experiments

08/08/2013
A group of virologists lead by Yoshihiro Kawaoka and Ron Fouchier have sent a letter to Nature and Science outlining the experiments they propose to carry out with influenza H7N9 virus. Avian influenza H7N9 virus has caused over 130 human infections in China with 43 fatalities. The source of the ...

Pandoravirus, bigger and unlike anything seen before

08/01/2013
The discovery of the giant Mimivirus and Megavirus amazed virologists (and also many others). Their virions (750 nanometers) and DNA genomes (1,259,000 base pairs) were the biggest ever discovered, shattering the notions that viruses could not be seen with a light microscope, and that viral genomes were smaller bacterial genomes. ...

Poliovirus silently (and not so silently) spreads

07/23/2013
Poliovirus has been found in sewage in Israel. The virus detected is not vaccine-derived poliovirus; it is wild-type 1 poliovirus, the strain that occurs naturally in the wild and which the World Health Organization is trying very hard to eradicate from the planet.

Dual virus-receptor duel

07/17/2013
Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites: they must enter a cell to reproduce. To gain access to the cell interior, a virus must first bind to one or more specific receptor molecules on the cell surface. Cell receptors for viruses do not exist only to serve viruses: they also have cellular ...

Hepatitis A virus infections associated with berry and pomegranate mix

06/21/2013
An outbreak of hepatitis A virus (HAV) infections in eight US states has been attributed to consumption of Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend frozen berry and pomegranate mix purchased from Costco markets. Since March 2013, 118 individuals have acquired the infection and 80% report having eaten this fruit product. Townsend ...

The wall of polio

06/19/2013
The Polio Wall of Fame is a set of fifteen sculptured busts of 17 individuals who made important contributions to understanding and preventing poliomyelitis. The busts are mounted on an exterior wall of Founder’s Hall at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation in Warm Springs, Georgia, USA. In my ...

A single amino acid change switches avian influenza H5N1 and H7N9 viruses to human receptors

06/11/2013
Two back-to-back papers were published last week that provide a detailed analysis of what it would take for avian influenza H5N1 and H7N9 viruses to switch to human receptors. A single amino acid change in the viral hemagglutinin protein is sufficient to quantitatively change binding of the virus from avian ...

Virology course on Coursera

06/07/2013
For fours years I have taught a virology course at Columbia University and have posted videos of each lecture on my website, virology.ws, and at iTunes University. Nearly 100,000 individuals have subscribed to my virology course at iTunes University. Now Columbia has signed an agreement with Coursera, and on 1August, ...

Treating hepatitis C by blocking a cellular microRNA

06/06/2013
Miravirsen is a drug that binds to and blocks the function of a cellular microRNA called miR-122 that is required for the replication of hepatitis C virus (HCV). Treatment of chimpanzees chronically infected with HCV with this drug leads to suppression of viral replication. The results of a phase 2b ...

Inefficient influenza H7N9 virus aerosol transmission among ferrets

05/23/2013
There have been 131 confirmed human infections with avian influenza H7N9 virus in China, but so far there is little evidence for human to human transmission. Three out of four patients report exposure to animals, ‘mostly chickens‘, suggesting that most of the infections are zoonoses. Whether or not the virus ...

Prominent Virologist Defends The Chinese Hybrid H5N1-H1N1 Research, Calls It ‘Good Science’

05/17/2013
There was much written concerning the research published earlier this month in Science, where researchers from China’s Harbin Veterinary Research Institute reported creating an avian H5N1 (highly pathogenic) and pandemic 2009 H1N1 (easily transmissible) hybrid, that according to them, achieved airborne spread between guinea pigs. Included in the ...

Influenza H5N1 x H1N1 reassortants: ignore the headlines, it’s good science

05/08/2013
Those of you with an interest in virology, or perhaps simply sensationalism, have probably seen the recent headlines proclaiming another laboratory-made killer influenza virus. From The Independent: ‘Appalling irresponsibility: Senior scientists attack Chinese researchers for creating new strains of influenza virus’; and from InSing.com: ‘Made-in-China killer flu virus’. It’s unfortunate ...

Going viral on Science Sunday Hangout on Air

04/29/2013
I joined Buddhini Samarasinghe and Scott Lewis on a Science Sunday Hangout on Air to talk about my career in virology: how I came to be interested in viruses, and what goes on in my laboratory. You can find hangouts and more at the ScienceSunday community. {youtube}WpLH4gRk9gc{/youtube}

A few reminiscences on Hilary Koprowski

04/26/2013
Virologist Hilary Koprowski died on 11 April 2013 at the age of 96. His main accomplishments are nicely summarized in the New York Times, but for a more comprehensive overview of his life, I highly recommend his biography Listen to the Music by Roger Vaughan. I did not have many ...

The science-themed art of Deb Sklut

04/23/2013
During my visit to Berkeley, CA to record TWiV #228, I met Deb Sklut, an artist who is inspired by the power of science. I recorded a brief conversation with Deb which you can view below. Her work can be found at SqueakySqueegeeArt.etsy.com.

Avian influenza H7N7 virus outbreak: Lessons for H7N9

04/19/2013
An outbreak of high-pathogenicity avian influenza H7N7 virus that took place on 255 poultry farms in the Netherlands during 2003 has been used to provide clues about the current avian influenza H7N9 viruses in China. During the Dutch outbreak 453 humans showed symptoms of illness and 89 were confirmed to ...

Hilary Koprowski, Columbia University Medical Center, 2005

04/19/2013
Hilary Koprowski flanked by Vincent Racaniello and Richard Kessin on the occasion of Dr. Koprowski's 'History of Science' lecture at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, April 2005.

Avian influenza H7N9 viruses isolated from humans: What do the gene sequences mean?

04/17/2013
There have been over 60 human infections with avian influenza virus H7N9 in China, and cases have been detected outside of Shanghai, including Beijing, Zhejiang, Henan, and Anhui Provinces. Information on the first three cases has now been published, allowing a more detailed consideration of the properties of the viral ...

Henrietta Lacks (HeLa) genome sequence published then withdrawn

03/27/2013
Earlier this month the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) published the DNA sequence of the genome of HeLa cells, the cell line that is widely used for research in virology, cell biology, and many other areas. This cell line was produced from a tumor taken from Henrietta Lacks in 1951. ...

Circovirus in Shanghai

03/20/2013
Recently thousands of dead and decaying pigs were pulled from rivers in Shanghai and Jiaxing, China. Apparently farmers dumped the animals into the water after the pigs became ill, and porcine circovirus was subsequently detected in the in pig carcasses and in the water. Porcine circoviruses are small, icosahedral viruses ...

Receptor for new coronavirus-EMC identified

03/15/2013
Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites, which means that they must enter a cell to reproduce. As virions are too large to diffuse passively across the plasma membrane, cellular pathways for uptake of extracellular materials provide entry routes. The first step in entry is adherence of virus particles to the membrane, ...

How I record my lectures

03/01/2013
Each year as I teach my undergraduate virology course, I record each lecture and put them online where they are freely accessible. A student in my virology course approached me recently to thank me for making the lectures available online, and wondered why other professors did not so the same. ...

Proposed US policy on dual use research of concern

02/26/2013
The US Office of Science and Technology Policy recently released proposed guidelines for maximizing the benefits and minimizing misuse of life sciences research. The measures establish oversight responsibilities for universities and other institutions that receive Federal funding.

Antimicrobial peptides induced by herpesvirus enhance HIV-1 infection

02/21/2013
The risk of being infected with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is substantially enhanced in individuals with other sexually transmitted diseases. For example, infection with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) increases the risk ratio of acquiring HIV from 2 to 4. Explanations for this increased risk include direct ...

Harvard University: Great virology, bad science writing

02/18/2013
Harvard University is home to some of the world’s finest virologists. But apparently they do not communicate with the writers at Harvard Magazine, where a botched story on the avian H5N1 influenza virus has just been published.

Virologia en Español

02/14/2013
Tengo el gusto de anunciarles que mi curso de virologia esta ahora disponible en Español. Este trabajo se realizó bajo la dirección de la Dra. Susana López, virologa del Departamento de Genética del Desarrollo y Fisiología Molecular del Instituto de Biotecnología de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. Las traducciones ...

Did hepatitis C virus originate in horses?

02/12/2013
About 2% of the world’s population is chronically infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV). This enveloped, positive-strand RNA virus was discovered in 1989, but serological and phylogenetic evidence indicates that it has been infecting humans for hundreds of years, perhaps as long ago as the 14th century. All human viral ...

Human infections with influenza H5N1 virus: How many?

02/07/2013
The lethality of avian influenza H5N1 infections in humans has been a matter of extensive debate. The >50% case fatality rate established by WHO is high, but the lethality of the virus might be lower if there are many infections accompanied by mild or no disease. One way to answer ...

A virology course for all

02/01/2013
The spring semester has begun at Columbia University, which means that it is time to teach my virology course. The fourth annual installment of my virology course, Biology W3310, has begun. This course, which I taught for the first time in 2009, is intended for advanced undergraduates and convenes at ...

The risks and benefits of influenza H5N1 research

01/29/2013
Both Nature and the New York Times have weighed in on the resumption of influenza H5N1 research. In an editorial from 23 January 2013, Nature opines that “Experiments that make deadly pathogens more dangerous demand the utmost scrutiny”. They call for a quantitative risk-benefit analysis of H5N1 research. I don't ...

End of moratorium on influenza H5N1 research

01/23/2013
In early 2012 influenza virus researchers around the world decided to stop working on highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus. This decision came after work from the Fouchier and Kawaoka laboratories revealed the isolation of influenza H5N1 strains that can be passed among ferrets by aerosol. The moratorium on influenza ...

Viruses on Time

01/21/2013
Poliovirus recently made the cover of Time magazine. Prompted by a reader question, I searched the Time archive to find out if there have been other virology-themed covers. I found fifteen in all, depicting poliovirus (3), herpesvirus (1), HIV/AIDS (4), influenza (5), and SARS coronavirus (2) (I did not distinguish ...

Effectiveness of this season’s influenza vaccine

01/18/2013
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released early estimates of the effectiveness of this season’s influenza vaccine in preventing influenza infection. Estimated vaccine effectiveness is 62%. But even if you get infected after immunization, you are likely to have reduced illness, antibiotic use, doctor visits, time lost from ...

Be curious

01/17/2013
During my visit to the University of Vermont today I had lunch with seven talented Microbiology Ph.D. students. One of them asked me what was an important quality to have for achieving success in science. I said without hesitation, ‘Be curious’. It’s the answer I always give. Being curious is ...

Poliovirus on Time

01/12/2013
Poliovirus has made the cover of Time magazine. The Time cover image for the 14 January 2013 issue is a model of poliovirus bound to a soluble form of its cellular receptor, CD155. I was part of the team that solved the structure of this complex in 2000, together with ...

Friday flu shot

01/12/2013
Yesterday many US newspapers carried front-page stories on the severity of influenza so far this season. The New York Times story began with “It is not your imagination — more people you know are sick this winter, even people who have had flu shots.” Is this really a bad flu ...

Deans write to Obama about CIA vaccine scheme in Pakistan

01/08/2013
Deans of public health schools in the United States have sent a letter to President Obama, in which they criticize the use of a vaccination campaign by the Central Intelligence Agency in Pakistan to hunt for Osama bin Laden. I wonder if he will reply.

WHO will switch to type 2 inactivated poliovirus vaccine

01/08/2013
The World Health Organization’s campaign to eradicate poliomyelitis made impressive inroads in 2012: only 212 cases were reported, compared with 620 the previous year; moreover, India remained polio-free. The dark side of this story is that as wild polio is eliminated, vaccine-associated poliomyelitis moves in to take its place. The ...

The gender bias of science faculty

01/07/2013
If you were a science professor, and you received two equally strong applications for the position of laboratory manager, one from a female, one from a male, which one would you pick? The answer might surprise you.

Vaccine-associated poliomyelitis in Pakistan

12/21/2012
An outbreak of ten cases of poliomyelitis caused by circulating vaccine-derivied poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) is ongoing in Pakistan, centered in the Kila Abdulla/Pishin area of Baluchistan. The same virus strain has spread to the neighboring Kandahar province in Afghanistan, where two paralytic cases have been reported. Vaccine-derived poliomyelitis is ...

HIV among US youth

12/20/2012
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released its latest estimates on the number of new HIV infections in the United States. HIV remains a serious health problem, with an estimated 47,500 people becoming newly infected with the virus in the United States in 2010. About 12,000 youth were ...

Polio immunizers murdered by Taliban

12/19/2012
Maryn McKenna summarizes what we know about the murder of six people working as polio vaccinators who were targeted in three separate coordinated attacks in Pakistan. This comes in the wake of the CIA ruse in 2011 who used an immunization campaign to find Osama Bin Laden.

NIH head defends new center for translational science

12/19/2012
Head of the US National Institutes of Health Francis Collins was asked some tough questions by a House of Representatives subcommittee examining the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, NCATS. The goal of the new center, opened in 2012, is to reduce the amount of time needed to develop ...

Glass microbes

12/09/2012
I am always looking for microbe-themed art; I keep a list of my findings at Microbe Art. I’ve just discovered a new artist: Jane Hartman of Trilobite Glassworks. From her website: Trilobite Glassworks features stained glass and fused glass decorative as well as functional pieces all designed and made by ...

Influenza is on the rise

12/06/2012
December 2-5 is National Influenza Vaccination Week in the US. This year the push to immunize against flu comes as the disease has begun to increase substantially throughout the United States. A substantial rise in the number of influenza cases typically does not occur until the end of December ...

Great ape protection act

12/05/2012
The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (S 810), which would prohibit the use of chimpanzees in medical research, may be voted on in the Senate this week (it was approved by a Senate committee in July). The purpose of this act is to phase out invasive research on ...

Virology Lecture: Picornaviruses

11/29/2012
I was scheduled to deliver a lecture on picornaviruses to a virology class at Yale University this week, but had to cancel at the last minute. I prepared this screencast to make up for my absence. The Picornaviridae is a family of non-enveloped, positive-strand RNA viruses which contains some well known ...

Viruses of protozoan parasites may exacerbate human disease

11/21/2012
Many protozoan parasites (Trichomonas, Leishmania, Giardia, Plasmodium, Entamoeba, Nagleria, Eimeria, Cryptosporidium) are infected with viruses. These viruses do not infect vertebrates, but their double-stranded RNA genomes are sensed by the innate immune system, leading to inflammatory complications of protozoan infections.

Spread of koala retrovirus in Australia

11/09/2012
The Koala retrovirus (KoRV) continues to spread within Australia, according to results of a new analysis of a larger sample size from a wider geographical range than was previously studied.

World Polio Day

10/25/2012
Today, 24 October 2012, is World Polio Day: World Polio Day (October 24) was established by Rotary International over a decade ago to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against poliomyelitis. Use of this inactivated poliovirus vaccine and subsequent widespread use of ...

An RNA virus that infects Archaea?

10/17/2012
Every different life form on earth can probably be infected with at least one type of virus, if not many more. Most of these viruses have not yet been discovered: just over 2,000 viral species are recognized. While the majority of the known viruses infect bacteria and eukaryotes, there are ...

Museum pelts help date the koala retrovirus

10/11/2012
The genomes of most higher organisms contain sequences from retroviral genomes called endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). These are DNA copies of retroviral RNAs that are integrated into the germ line DNA of the host, and passed from parent to offspring. In most species the infections that lead to germ line ERVs ...

No further evidence of novel coronavirus

10/09/2012
There is no evidence for further spread among humans of a novel coronavirus recently isolated from two individuals with severe respiratory illness. This conclusion has been drawn after scrutinizing the travels (figure) and contacts of a Qatari adult who was transferred to intensive care in London.

Behind the scenes: TWiV 202 at the University of Nebraska

10/07/2012
We recorded This Week in Virology #202 at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska on 5 October 2012, as part of the 12th Annual Symposium in Virology. Terence Dermody, Shou-Wei Ding, Grant McFadden and I spoke about our research, and then we recorded TWiV with University of Nebraska virologists ...

A new rhabdovirus from a patient with hemorrhagic fever

10/01/2012
Hemorrhagic fevers are among the most graphic viral diseases, inspiring movies, novels, and a general fear of infection. They are characterized by an abrupt onset and a striking clinical course involving bleeding from the nose and mouth, vomiting with blood, and bloody diarrhea. The most famous hemorrhagic fevers are produced ...

A new coronavirus isolated from humans

09/26/2012
A new coronavirus has been isolated from two individuals with severe respiratory illness. It is different from the SARS coronavirus, but health officials are nonetheless preparing for a rapid response should the virus be detected elsewhere.

Behind the scenes: TWiV 200 at the NEIDL

09/24/2012
We celebrated the 200th episode of TWiV by visiting the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories at Boston University Medical Center, where we met with Elke, Paul, and Ron to talk about building and working in a BSL4 facility. It was an amazing visit that will be fully documented in an ...

Thirty years in my laboratory at Columbia University

09/24/2012
Thirty years ago this month I arrived in the Department of Microbiology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) to start my own laboratory. Thirty is not only a multiple of ten (which we tend to celebrate), but also a long time to be at one place. It’s ...

The Hershey-Chase food blender

09/12/2012
Should you ever visit Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York, be sure to go see the food blender that was used to carry out the well known Hershey-Chase experiment. The blender is located in the Szybalski Reading Room of the Carnegie Library. After entering the front door ...

Behind the scenes: Recording TWIM 40 at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

09/06/2012
Here are photographs I took during our visit to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to record This Week in Microbiology #40. We roamed around campus scouting locations before deciding on the Szybalski Reading Room in the Carnegie Library. That's Ray Ortega setting up in the Szybalski Reading Room. Also in some ...

From a food blender to real-time fluorescent imaging

09/06/2012
Although Avery, MacLeod, and McCarty showed in 1944 that nucleic acid was both necessary and sufficient for the transfer of bacterial genetic traits, protein was still suspected to be a critical component of viral heredity. Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase showed that this hypothesis was incorrect with a simple experiment ...

Video: Cloning HeLa cells with Professor Philip I. Marcus

08/30/2012
Video of my conversation from TWiV 197 with Professor Philip I. Marcus on his development of the single cell cloning technique in the 1950s, using HeLa cells.

Milestones in Microbiology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

08/28/2012
Last week I was at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to attend a ceremony designating the well-known laboratory on Long Island as a Milestone in Microbiology site. The purpose of this program, which is administered by the American Society for Microbiology, is to recognize institutions that have substantially advanced the science ...

How lethal is rabies virus?

08/23/2012
When I am asked to name the most lethal human virus, I never hesitate to name rabies virus. Infection with this virus is almost invariably fatal; just three unvaccinated individuals have been known to survive. New evidence from humans in the Peruvian Amazon suggests that the virus might be less ...

A viral mashup in snakes

08/15/2012
If you know anything about snakes you might be familiar with snake inclusion body disease, or IBD. This transmissible and fatal disease affects snakes of a variety of species but has been best studied in boas. The name comes from the presence of large masses (inclusions) in the cytoplasm of ...

Is it Ebolavirus or Ebola virus?

08/08/2012
When I drafted my article for TakePart (Don’t Panic – Ebola Isn’t Heading For You), I used the term ‘ebolavirus’ throughout, but the editors changed every instance to ‘Ebola virus’. Understanding which term is correct is far more complicated than you might imagine.

Don’t Panic—Ebola Isn’t Heading For You

08/06/2012
An outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever that began in early July 2012 has involved at least 36 individuals and 16 deaths. So far the disease has been confined to a rural region west of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The subject of Richard Preston’s scary The Hot Zone, Ebola virus ...

Herpetic Legion - Reactivation

07/28/2012
We all know that virologists love to dance. But did you know that they can also perform in a rock band? At the recently concluded 2012 meeting of the American Society for Virology in Madison, WI, seven virologists and a neurobiologist, members of the band Herpetic Legion, entertained meeting attendees with ...

Origin of the H5N1 storm

07/10/2012
I still wonder why the influenza virus H5N1 ferret transmission studies generated such fear and misunderstanding among the public, the press, and even some scientists. I still cannot fully explain what transpired, but now that the papers have been published some new clues have emerged.

Influenza H5N1 virus versus ferrets, round two

06/22/2012
The second of two papers on avian influenza H5N1 virus that caused such a furor in the past year was published today in the journal Science. I have carefully read the paper by Fouchier and colleagues, and I assure you that it does not enable the production of a deadly ...

Aaron J. Shatkin, 77

06/12/2012
Aaron J. Shatkin was well known for his work on reoviruses beginning in the 1960s in his laboratory at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, NJ and then at Rutgers University. He was among the first to appreciate that virus particles contained many different enzymes, such as RNA ...

Can India remain polio-free?

06/08/2012
India has been free of polio for over one year. This is a remarkable accomplishment, considering that just 30 years ago the country recorded 200,000 cases of the disease annually, or one every three minutes. With polio endemic in two neighboring countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and in the more distant ...

Kawaoka paper published on aerosol transmission of H5 influenza virus in ferrets

05/02/2012
One of two papers on avian influenza H5N1 virus that caused such a furor in the past six months was published today in the journal Nature. I have read it, and I can assure you that the results do not enable the construction of a deadly biological weapon. Instead, they ...

Earth’s virology professor

05/01/2012
Nearly four months ago I stood at the front of a crowded classroom at Columbia University and began teaching the third year of my undergraduate virology course. Twice a week we discussed the basic principles of virology, including how virions are built, how they replicate, and how they cause disease. ...

A mad cow in America

04/27/2012
A dairy cow in California is the fourth known American case of mad cow disease, which is caused by prions, infectious agents composed only of protein (the story hit the press the day after my lecture on this type of illness). Unlike viruses, prions have no nucleic acid and no ...

Capturing viruses with bacteria

04/20/2012
When my laboratory discovered the cell receptor for poliovirus in 1989, many new research directions were suddenly revealed – such as creating a mouse model for poliomyelitis. One application we did not think of was to use the receptor to screen samples of drinking water for the presence of viruses.

More evidence for mild influenza H5N1 infections

04/12/2012
Influenza H5N1 virus frightens many because of the widely quoted case fatality ratio of >50%, which is based on the number of deaths among the fewer than 600 cases confirmed by the World Health Organization. Such fear is misguided, because it is likely that the fatality ratio is far lower. ...

Building the perfect bug

04/04/2012
This past February I was interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Company on the topic of the Fouchier and Kawaoka experiments on avian influenza virus H5N1. The video, Building the Perfect Bug, has been released by Journeyman Pictures and includes interviews with S.T. Lai, Laurie Garrett, Michael Osterholm, and Ron Fouchier ...

A spike for piercing the cell membrane

03/23/2012
Some viruses that infect bacteria (bacteriophages) deliver their DNA into the host cell with an amazing injection machine. The tailed bacteriophages (such as T4, illustrated) store their DNA in a capsid attached to a long tail tube that is surrounded by a sheath. At the bottom of the tube is ...

Tulips broken by viruses

03/15/2012
A consequence of the recent warm weather in the northeastern United States is the emergence of crocuses, an event that I documented at the TWiV Facebook page. A reader replied that it reminded her of the highly valued tulips with beautiful variegations produced by viruses.

Influenza H5N1 is not lethal in ferrets after airborne transmission

03/02/2012
Ron Fouchier has discussed his influenza H5N1 transmission experiments in ferrets at an ASM Biodefense Conference, clarifying several assumptions about the transmissibility of the virus in this animal model.

Renato Dulbecco, 1914-2012

02/24/2012
For the second time in a week I note the passing of an important virologist. Renato Dulbecco, together with David Baltimore and Howard Temin, received the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries about how tumor viruses interact with the genetic material of the cell. Dulbecco also devised ...

Evidence for influenza H5N1 infections in humans

02/24/2012
The fatality rate for human infections with avian influenza H5N1 is widely quoted at >50%, based on the number of deaths among the fewer than 600 cases confirmed by the World Health Organization. Wang, Parides, and Palese suggest that this number is an overestimate.

Norton Zinder, 1928-2012

02/17/2012
Norton Zinder made two important discoveries in the field of virology. While a Ph.D. student with Joshua Lederberg at the University of Wisconsin-Madison he found that viruses of bacteria (bacteriophages) could move genes from one host to another, a process called transduction. Later in his own laboratory at The Rockefeller ...

H5N1 facts, not fear

01/26/2012
Peter Palese and Taia Wang have written a compelling article that uses scientific facts to address the controversy over publication of research involving transmission of avian influenza H5N1 in ferrets. In response to calls in the media to destroy the viruses, curtail the research, and protect the public from frightening ...

Prominent Virologists Want U.S. Advisory Board to Take a Second Look at Controversial Flu Papers

01/24/2012
A group of seventeen virologists is asking a U.S. government biosecurity advisory board to reconsider its controversial recommendation that two research teams omit key details from papers in press at Science and Nature. They note that the H5N1 fatality rate quoted widely is incorrect, and that the ferret-passaged virus ...

My virology course at Columbia University

01/22/2012
The third annual installment of my virology course at Columbia University, Biology W3310, has begun, and all the lectures will be available online.

Small fragments of viral nucleic acid cross borders in monkey meat

01/17/2012
The finding of viral nucleic acid sequences in illegally imported wildlife products has attracted the attention of the New York Times, which published an article entitled From the jungle to J.F.K., viruses cross borders in monkey meat.

India polio-free for one year

01/15/2012
A year has passed since the last reported case of poliomyelitis in India, which occurred on 13 January 2011 in a two year old girl in Howrah, West Bengal.

Palese: Don’t censor live-saving science

01/12/2012
Renowned influenza virologist Peter Palese has penned an opinion column for the science journal Nature in which he uses his experience in reconstructing the 1918 pandemic influenza virus strain to question the censoring of H5N1 results by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB)

An engineered doomsday

01/08/2012
In a lead editorial the New York Times argues why the recent research on avian influenza H5N1 should not be published, and why it constitutes a threat to humanity. They get all of the facts wrong, and base their opinions on incorrect science. Among the problems: they flatly state that ...

Should we fear avian H5N1 influenza?

01/04/2012
Why is there such widespread fear of avian H5N1 influenza virus? Why did Paul Keim, chair of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) say “I can’t think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one”. What lead Donald McNeil, writing about H5N1 in the New ...

Authors retract paper on detection of murine leukemia virus-releated sequences in CFS patients

12/27/2011
A paper that reported finding retroviral sequences in blood from patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has been retracted by the authors. Just four days ago the 2009 Science report of Lombardi and colleagues was editorially retracted. As 2011 comes to an end, so does the hypothesis that retroviruses are ...

A bad day for science

12/21/2011
The virologists who carried out the contentious experiments on influenza H5N1 transmission in ferrets have agreed to remove certain details from their manuscript, according to ScienceInsider. This is a bad day for virology, and for science in general. The decision by the NSABB sets a precedent for censoring future experimental ...

Megavirus, the biggest known virus

12/15/2011
The mantle of world’s biggest virus has passed from Mimivirus to Megavirus. But in this case, size doesn’t matter. It’s the genes that these viruses share and do not share that make this story important.

Genome of arsenic bacterium sequenced

12/06/2011
The genome nucleotide sequence has been determined of the bacterium GFAJ-1, which has been suggested to survive in high levels of arsenic and in fact incorporate arsenic into macromolecules. The sequence does not address the controversy over whether the bacterium can utilize arsenic. I suppose that it is so easy ...

Ferreting out influenza H5N1

12/06/2011
A laboratory in the Netherlands has identified a lethal influenza H5N1 virus strain that is transmitted among ferrets. These findings are under review by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to ensure that they do not constitute a threat to human health. Meanwhile both the popular and scientific ...

The dwindling American science majors

12/01/2011
According to the New York Times (Why Science Majors Change Their Minds), the decline in the number of science majors in the United States has come about in part because the subject matter is too difficult. If this explanation is true, then we have not properly prepared these students in ...

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the CDC: A Long, Tangled Tale

11/23/2011
David Tuller, health journalist and Berkeley faculty member, has written a piece on the CDC's handling of CFS. His account draws from interviews, a close reading of a fraction of the 4608 epidemiologic studies that pop up on a PubMed search for “chronic fatigue syndrome,” and a review of many ...

How good is the influenza vaccine?

11/07/2011
I hear from many readers that they routinely get the flu vaccine every year, yet they often contract the disease. I usually tell them that the vaccine is not perfect: it doesn’t protect everyone who gets it. Now we have the numbers to back up this statement, and they are ...

Ten seminal virologists

11/01/2011
In my recent keynote address to the Brazilian Virology Society entitled The World of Viruses, I presented my list of ten seminal virologists. The idea to include such a discussion came from David Baltimore, who sent me his list. Our lists had some but not all individuals in common. What ...

The World of Viruses

10/29/2011
I was honored to present the Keynote Address at the XXII meeting of the Brazilian Virology Society on 23 October 2011. In my talk entitled The World of Viruses, given to an audience of 640 virologists, I shared my enthusiasm for these amazing microbes by discussing ten seminal virologists and ...

The Lazarus virus

10/12/2011
There is an excellent question in the comments to “Are all virus particles infectious?“: if the particle-to-PFU ratio for a virus stock is 10,000:1, and I infect 1,000,000 cells with 10,000 particles, how many plaques would I expect to observe? Answering this question provides insight into the particle-to-PFU ratio of ...

David and Goliath: How one cytokine may take down influenza

10/07/2011
Recent research has suggested a new method of flu prevention and treatment: the administration of granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) to the lungs of mice significantly reduced flu symptoms and prevented mortality after a lethal dose of influenza virus. GM-CSF helps the body defend against the virus by boosting the ...

Scientist Who Led XMRV Research Team Let Go

10/03/2011
Judy A. Mikovits, the embattled scientist who led the research team that found a possible link between the retrovirus XMRV and patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, has been terminated from her job as director of research at the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease in Reno, Nev.

Robert A. Weisberg, 1937-2011

10/02/2011
Robert A. Weisberg was a Scientist Emeritus at NCI until the time of his death on 1 September 2011. Previously he was Chief of Microbial Genetics at NICHHD, a position he retired from in 2008. He was a pioneer in the study of the bacteriophage lambda. His research lead to ...

Trust science, not scientists

09/28/2011
Whether or not the retrovirus XMRV is a human pathogen has been debated since the virus was first described in 2006. The answer is now clear: the results of Blood XMRV Scientific Research Group, along with a partial retraction of the 2009 Science paper describing identification of the retrovirus in ...

Viral desserts

09/16/2011
At the Harvard Virology Program Retreat for 2011, the students ran a viral dessert contest. I posted some of the images at VirusTalk. Have a look at them – they are truly delicious.

Gut microbes influence defense against influenza

09/07/2011
The bacteria in our intestines outnumber by tenfold the 100 trillion cells that comprise the human body. This gut microbiota has many beneficial functions, including the production of vitamins and hormones, fermentation, regulation of gut development, and shaping intestinal immune responses. They also play a role in pathological conditions such ...

Wild poliovirus in China

09/07/2011
The World Health Organization has confirmed that cases of poliomyelitis in China were caused by wild poliovirus type 1.

Virology at the Deutsches Museum

08/24/2011
I just returned from a 17-day, 3,000 km road trip with my family in Europe. When I travel I’m always on the lookout for virus-related information and I found some at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany. This museum showcases science and technology – it has over 100,000 objects illustrating ...

Dr. Kiki's Science Hour Guest Vincent Racaniello

07/28/2011
Professor Vincent Racaniello will be a guest today, Thursday 28 July, on Dr. Kiki's Science Hour. Tune in to live.twit.tv at 7:00 PM EDT and listen to Dr. Kirsten Sanford discuss viruses with the host of 'This Week in Virology', 'This Week in Parasitism', and 'This Week in Microbiology'.

Live tweeting of the ASV meeting

07/26/2011
Last week I attended the 30th annual meeting of the American Society for Virology in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During the morning symposia, which consist of formal 35-minute talks, I decided to post ongoing summaries of each talk on Twitter, a process known as ‘live tweeting’ or ‘live blogging’. Some individuals were ...

Transgenic mice susceptible to poliovirus

07/13/2011
Yesterday I terminated the last remaining mice in my small colony, including the line of poliovirus receptor transgenic mice that we established here in 1990. Remarkably, I had never written about this animal model for poliomyelitis which has played an important role in the work done in my laboratory.

Happy as a clam? Maybe not.

07/10/2011
The expression “Happy as a Clam” comes with new meaning as hepatitis A virus has been detected in clams, mussels, and oysters in markets for human consumption. As bivalve shellfish are excellent bio-accumulators of contaminants and chemicals, it is no surprise that they also harbor waterborne viruses such as hepatitis ...

Poliomyelitis after a twelve year incubation period

07/01/2011
Analysis of poliovirus recovered from the stool of a patient with fatal poliomyelitis revealed that she had been infected with the virus 12 years earlier, probably when one of her children received the oral poliovirus vaccine. This case has the longest known incubation period for vaccine-derived poliomyelitis, and highlights our ...

Murine gammaretroviruses in prostate cancer cell lines

06/27/2011
The retrovirus XMRV arose during passage of a human prostate tumor in nude mice. The genomes of these mice contain two different proviral DNAs related to XMRV, pre-XMRV-1 and pre-XMRV-2, that recombined to produce XMRV that has been isolated from humans. Two other prostate cancer cell lines also contain mouse ...

Schistosomiasis poster

06/21/2011
Photograph of a poster issued by the Chinese government in the late 1970s depicting the spread of schistosomes to humans from snails as a consequence of agricultural practices. These posters have been in the office of Dickson Despommier since the 1970s.

Hookworm poster

06/21/2011
Photograph of a poster issued by the Chinese government in the late 1970s depicting the spread of hookworm to humans by the use of human feces as fertilizer. A prevention method is also illustrated - wearing shoes. These posters have been in the office of Dickson Despommier since the 1970s.

Viruses go green

06/17/2011
A team at MIT has been able to use a genetically engineered virus to help build carbon nanotubes, microscopic cylinders that are integral in constructing high-efficiency solar cells. These nanotubes had proven difficult to construct due to their small size, and traditional techniques were doing a poor job. However, a ...

XMRV is a recombinant virus from mice

06/01/2011
The novel human retrovirus XMRV has been associated with prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome. The nucleotide sequence of XMRV isolated from humans indicates that the virus is nearly identical with XMRV produced from a human prostate tumor cell line called 22Rv1. This cell line was derived by passage of ...

New Elsevier Slogan: “It’s All about The Benjamins”

05/27/2011
Rich Condit found an article highly critical of the original Wakefield study (claiming a link between MMR vaccine and autism) which was published in the same issue of Lancet. He asked the publisher, Elsevier, to open up the article to non-subscribers so he could recommend it as a pick of ...

Canine hepacivirus, a relative of hepatitis C virus

05/26/2011
Contemporary human viruses most likely originated by cross-species transmission from non-human animals. Examples include HIV-1, which crossed from chimpanzees to humans, and SARS coronavirus, which originated in bats. Since the 1989 discovery of hepatitis C virus (classified as a hepacivirus in the family Flaviviridae) the origin of the virus been ...

WHO decides to keep smallpox stocks....for now

05/25/2011
The World Health Organization has decided not to recommend destruction of the remaining stocks of smallpox virus. This debate has been ongoing since 1980, when the disease was declared eradicated. WHO has indicated that no new experiments on smallpox virus will be permitted, only conclusion of ongoing studies. For the ...

Not-so-similar fate of identical twins infected with HIV-1

05/17/2011
In 1983, identical twins boys simultaneously received a contaminated blood transfusion immediately after birth, and were subsequently diagnosed with HIV-1. Years later, one of the twins is faring very well and has a near normal immune system, while the other is in poor health and has experienced many complications. How ...

Ila Singh finds no XMRV in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome

05/05/2011
Since the first association of the retrovirus XMRV with chronic fatigue syndrome in 2009 in the US, subsequent studies have failed to detect evidence of infection in patients from the US, Europe, and China. These studies were potentially compromised by a number of factors, such as differences in patient characterization, ...

Dickson Despommier’s Parasitic Diseases lectures

05/03/2011
Professor Dickson Despommier, co-host of TWiV and TWiP, and well known for his ideas about vertical farming, taught parasitology to medical, dental, and nursing students at Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons for 38 years. Below are videocasts of the six lectures from the final version of his course, ...

Retroviruses and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

04/22/2011
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a fatal disorder of unknown etiology. The disease involves degeneration of motor neurons, leading to paralysis, respiratory failure, and death within five years. A viral etiology for ALS has been suggested but never proven. Retroviruses ...

The press concludes that arboviruses can be sexually transmitted

04/13/2011
What would you conclude if you read the following headlines: Man sexually transmits insect-borne disease to wife (Fox News); Zika virus: First insect borne STD? (HuffPo); Scientist gives insect-borne disease to wife during sex (New York Magazine), and A scientist contracts a mosquito-borne virus and gives it to his wife ...

Baruch S. Blumberg, MD, 1925-2011

04/12/2011
Glenn Rall, a virologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, sent me the following note: Baruch S. Blumberg, Nobel Laureate in 1976 for discovery of Hepatitis B (and the eventual development of the vaccine, which probably has saved hundreds of thousands of lives since its introduction), died this past Tuesday (4/5/11).

Viruses engineer the ecosystem

04/01/2011
Last week we discussed the second known virophage, but we didn’t have any explanation of why such viruses might evolve. This week we have the discovery of a third virophage, hints of many more, and a hypothesis for what they might be doing in the global ecosystem.

Virophage, the virus eater

03/24/2011
A second virophage has been identified. The name does not signify a virus that infects another virus – it means virus eater.

Myra McClure on XMRV

03/22/2011
Myra McClure, Professor in the Division of Infection and Immunity, University College of London, U.K., has focused on retroviruses for much of her research career. I discussed the potential role of the retrovirus XMRV in prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome with Dr. McClure during ICAAC Boston 2010, as part ...

Should smallpox virus be destroyed?

03/18/2011
After the eradication of smallpox in 1980, the World Health Organization called for destruction of known remaining stocks of the virus. The United States and Russia, which hold the known stocks of smallpox virus, have not destroyed their stocks. During TWiV #124, I was surprised to learn that the remaining ...

XMRV infection of Rhesus macaques

02/17/2011
The first detailed study of infection of nonhuman primates with the retrovirus XMRV reveals that the virus establishes a persistent infection characterized by infection of multiple tissues. Viremia (virus in the blood) is low and transient, with proviral DNA detectable in blood lymphocytes. The results show that the Rhesus macaque ...

Is Vilyuisk encephalitis a viral disease?

02/10/2011
A type of human encephalitis – an infection of the brain – has been known to affect the indigenous people living in the Sakha Republic of Russia since the mid-1800s. The available clinical and epidemiological evidence suggests that the disease is caused by a pathogen, but proving this has been ...

Frederick Hayden on influenza antivirals

01/31/2011
Frederick Hayden, Professor of Medicine and Pathology, University of Virginia School of Medicine, U.K., has focused on the use of antiviral agents to prevent and treat respiratory viral infections. I discussed the use of antiviral drugs to treat influenza with Dr. Hayden during ICAAC Boston 2010, as part of TWiV ...

A virology course at Columbia University

01/31/2011
My virology course at Columbia University, Biology W3310, has begun. This course, which I taught for the first time in 2009, is aimed at advanced undergraduates and will be taught at the Morningside Campus of Columbia University. Read on to learn how to access all the course materials, including videocasts ...

Are all virus particles infectious?

01/21/2011
Chris Upton, a contributor to the virology toolbox, has raised an important point about multiplicity of infection: Perhaps this is a place to bring up particle to pfu ratio? The above is great for when talking about phage, for example, when the ratio approaches 1. But with something like polio when ...

Multiplicity of infection

01/13/2011
Multiplicity of infection (MOI) is a frequently used term in virology which refers to the number of virions that are added per cell during infection. If one million virions are added to one million cells, the MOI is one. If ten million virions are added, the MOI is ten. Add ...

Derek Smith on antigenic cartography

01/07/2011
Derek Smith, Professor of Infectious Disease Informatics, University of Cambridge, U.K., has developed a method for visualizing antigenic evolution by creating two-dimensional maps in a process called antigenic cartography. These maps are made with data that provide information on the antigenic properties of the pathogen. In the case of influenza ...

Exhausted by Illness, and Doubts

01/05/2011
New York Times article by David Tuller, a journalism professor at Berkeley, on chronic fatigue syndrome and the retrovirus XMRV. The main focus of the article are four papers published in the journal Retrovirology at the end of 2010 which pointed to contamination as a potential issue for those attempting ...

Retroviral integration and the XMRV provirus

01/04/2011
A strong argument that the novel human retrovirus XMRV is not a laboratory contaminant is the the finding that viral DNA is integrated in chromosomal DNA of prostate tumors. Why does this result constitute such strong proof of viral infection? Establishment of an integrated copy of the viral genome – the ...

Rich Condit reminisces

12/30/2010
On my recent trip to record TWiV #111 at Florida Gulf Coast University, I visited Rich Condit in Gainesville. There he told me a story about how the bacteriophage T7 polymerase/promoter system was developed. It’s an interesting tale that demonstrates how important scientific advances often have convoluted roots. {youtube}Jud3PvP7erY{/youtube}

XMRV and CFS – It’s not the end

12/23/2010
Yesterday the Chicago Tribune published my reaction to the four papers on the retrovirus XMRV published this week in the journal Retrovirology. I was quoted as saying ”These four papers are probably the beginning of the end of XMRV and CFS”. I wish to retract this statement and explain my ...

Is XMRV a laboratory contaminant?

12/22/2010
Since the first observations that the human retrovirus XMRV is associated with prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), new studies have been carried out to determine the role of the virus in these diseases. The results have been conflicting: XMRV (and related retroviruses) have been found in some patients, ...

Unexpected endogenous viruses

12/13/2010
During the replication of retroviruses, a double-stranded DNA copy of the viral RNA genome is synthesized by reverse transcription and integrated into the genomes of the infected cell. When retroviral DNA is integrated into the DNA of germ line cells, it is passed on to future generations in Mendelian fashion ...

Pandemic influenza vaccine was too late in 2009

12/10/2010
Influenza researcher Peter Palese visited yesterday and spoke about “Pandemic influenza: Past and Future”. A key part of his talk was a review of his efforts to produce a universal influenza vaccine which protects against all strains. He used the following graph to make the point that when influenza pandemic ...

Are there viruses of arsenic-utilizing bacteria?

12/06/2010
A salt-loving (halophilic) bacterium which can grow in medium containing arsenic instead of phosphorus has been selected from the microbial community of Mono Lake in California. Arsenic (As) is a chemical analog of phosphorus and is usually toxic because it can enter metabolic pathways in the place of phosphorus. It ...

Frank Fenner, MD, 1914-2010

11/22/2010
Australian virologist Frank Fenner, MD was born in Ballarat, Victoria in 1914. He earned a Doctor of Medicine in 1942 at the University of Adelaide, and from 1940 – 1946 he worked on the malaria parasite in Egypt and Papua New Guinea as an officer in the Australian Army Medical ...

Prokaryotes considered

11/16/2010
As a college biology major during the 1970s I was taught that cells in which the genetic material is separated from the cytoplasm by a nuclear membrane – such as those of animals, fungi, plants, and protists – are called eukaryotes. In contrast, the DNA of bacteria is not bounded ...

Social media and microbiology education

10/22/2010
Social media consists of Internet technologies that allow users to create and share content, and to foster dialogues among other users. Examples include software applications for communication (blogging, social networking, discussion forums), collaboration (wikis, social bookmarking), and multimedia (sharing photographs, video, and livecasting). In the world of science, social media ...

Universal influenza vaccines

10/14/2010
The need to re-formulate the influenza virus vaccine in response to viral antigenic drift and shift makes for complex logistics of vaccine production and administration. Surveillance programs must be conducted each year to identify strains that are likely to predominate and cause disease. Wouldn’t it be simpler if a single ...

Detecting viral proteins in infected cells or tissues by immunostaining

10/01/2010
Many virological techniques are based on the specificity of the antibody-antigen reaction. Examples in our virology toolbox include western blot analysis and ELISA. While very useful, these methods cannot be used to visualize viral proteins in infected cells or tissues. To do that we must turn to immunostaining.

A new type of enveloped virus?

09/24/2010
All known virus particles can be placed into one of two general categories: enveloped or non-enveloped. Viruses that fall into the former category are characterized by a lipid membrane derived from the host cell, and one or more nuclecapsid proteins that interact with the viral genome. A virus that infects ...

PMRV joins XMRV as possible etiologic agent of chronic fatigue syndrome

09/11/2010
The new human retrovirus XMRV, first detected in malignant prostate tissue, was subsequently identified in a high percentage of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The virus was not detected in four independent studies of CFS patients in Europe or the United States. The results of a second American study, ...

XMRV not detected in seminal plasma

08/13/2010
How XMRV, the new human retrovirus associated with prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome, might be transmitted among humans is unknown. The finding that the virus can be detected in prostate cancer cells, and in prostatic secretions of men with prostate cancer suggests that it could be sexually transmitted. To ...

Viral bioinformatics: Dotplot

08/12/2010
Dotplots are an extremely useful way of visualizing comparisons of small and large DNA sequences (as well as protein sequences), providing insight into the degree of similarity, deletions, insertions and direct and indirect repeats. In a dotplot, each nucleotide, or small window of nucleotides, of one sequence is compared with ...

Robert M. Chanock, MD, 1924-2010

08/03/2010
Chanock received his MD in 1947 from the University of Chicago, and after clinical training in pediatrics (note the bowtie), joined Albert Sabin at the University of Cincinnati where he studied arthropod-borne viruses. After a stint in the US Army, he rejoined Sabin’s laboratory in 1954 as an independent investigator. ...

Viral bioinformatics: Introduction + Homology

07/27/2010
First, you may be asking yourself – Why viral bioinformatics? Good question! Although it’s true that much in the world of bioinformatics can be applied to all manner of protein and DNA sequences, there are a number of resources that are specific for viruses and there are a number of ...

The virus and the virion

07/23/2010
The illustration at left depicts a virion – the infectious particle that is designed for transmission of the nucleic acid genome among hosts or host cells. A virion is not the same as a virus. I define virus as a distinct biological entity with five distinct characteristics. Others believe that ...

Reovirus infection of farmed salmon

07/14/2010
Global fish farming may be the solution to the impending collapse of the commercial fishing industry, but penned fish are susceptible to infectious diseases. Infection with salmon infectious anemia virus, an orthomyxovirus, lead Wal-Mart to stop buying farmed salmon from Chile, the world’s second largest producer of the fish. As ...

Virology toolbox: the western blot

07/08/2010
Readers of virology blog often request explanations of specific experimental techniques. Methods such as complement fixation, deep sequencing, ELISA, PCR and many others are frequently mentioned on this blog without discussion. To do so would interrupt the scientific discourse and make for lengthly posts. To remedy this shortcoming, I have ...

Publication of XMRV papers should not be blocked

07/02/2010
The findings by the NIH and FDA that XMRV is associated with chronic fatigue syndrome has been accepted for publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Release of the article has been blocked by PNAS due to work carried out by the US Centers for Disease ...

Secondary changes allow spread of oseltamivir resistant influenza virus

06/16/2010
The influenza virus neuraminidase (NA) protein is required for virus release from the cell, a property exploited by the antiviral drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamavir (Relenza). During clinical testing of oseltamivir in 2001, some individuals shed drug-resistant viruses with an amino acid change from histidine to tyrosine (H274Y) in NA. ...

A new target for hepatitis C virus

06/11/2010
When infection with hepatitis C virus goes from acute to chronic, severe liver disease may occur which requires organ transplantation. Nearly 200 million people are chronically infected with HCV, necessitating approaches to preventing and treating infections. No HCV vaccine is available, and current antiviral therapy consists of administration of interferon ...

XMRV, prostate cancer, and chronic fatigue syndrome

06/04/2010
Robert H. Silverman, one of the authors on the study implicating the new human retrovirus XMRV as an etiologic agent of chronic fatigue syndrome, has written an excellent review article on the current status of research on the virus. The article is behind a paywall at Nature Reviews Urology, so ...

Headless HA: Universal influenza vaccine?

05/28/2010
A serious shortcoming of current influenza virus vaccines is the need to reformulate them every year or two as the virus undergoes antigenic drift. Many virologists have been captivated by the idea of a more universal vaccine that would endure longer, perhaps a decade or more. The identification of a ...

Futures in Biotech 60: Do you come to this cave often?

05/25/2010
I joined Marc Pelletier on episode 60 of Futures in Biotech for a conversation with Dave Brodbeck, George Farr, and Andre Nantel. We talked about primate face recognition, discovery of a new antiviral compound to treat hepatitis C virus infection, changing the length of a codon from three to four ...

XMRV in human respiratory tract

05/19/2010
An important question about the retrovirus XMRV, which has been implicated in prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome, is where the virus replicates in humans. Such information would provide clues about how infection might be transmitted. To date the virus has been detected in malignant prostate cells and in the ...

Recombination between cellular and viral RNA produces a pathogenic virus

05/14/2010
Bovine viral diarrhea virus is an economically important animal pathogen that may cause a fatal gastrointestinal disease in beef and dairy herds. Infection of a fetus with this virus during the first trimester leads to the birth of animals that are persistently infected for life. Some animals remain healthy, while ...

Porcine circovirus DNA found in RotaTeq

05/09/2010
The US Food and Drug Administration recently recommended that administration of Glaxo SmithKline’s Rotarix vaccine, which protects against rotavirus infection, be suspended after an independent research group found that the vaccine contains DNA of porcine circovirus type 1. Now the FDA reports finding circovirus DNA in the rotavirus vaccine made ...

Can a plant virus make you sick?

04/30/2010
It has been estimated that approximately one hundred trillion bacteria colonize the human intestine. That’s about ten times the number of cells that constitute the entire human body. These bacteria are believed to have a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with their hosts. What is known about the viral communities that inhabit ...

A plant virus that switched to vertebrates

04/27/2010
Viruses can be transmitted to completely new host species that they have not previously infected. Usually host defenses stop the infection before any replication and adaptation can take place. On rare occasions, a novel population of viruses arises in the new host. These interspecies infections can sometimes be deduced by ...

Inhibition of XMRV by a weapon of mass deamination

04/20/2010
All mammalian genomes contain genes encoding Apobec proteins. Several members of this protein family (the name stands for apolipoprotein B mRNA editing complex) are induced by interferon and are intrinsic antiretroviral proteins. Apobec proteins inhibit the replication of XMRV, a new human retrovirus associated with prostate cancer and chronic fatigue ...

Poliovirus vaccine, SV40, and human cancer

04/13/2010
Deep sequencing – which identified a viral contaminant of the rotavirus vaccine Rotarix - could have revealed the presence of simian virus 40 (SV40) in the poliovirus vaccine, had the technique been available in the 1950s. Exposure of over 100 million Americans to SV40, and many more worldwide, could have ...

Poliovirus vaccine safety

04/11/2010
The contamination of the rotavirus vaccine Rotarix with porcine circovirus 1 DNA was revealed by deep sequencing. The same technique was also used to demonstrate that oral poliovirus vaccine does not contain viruses that can cause poliomyelitis.

Inhibitors of XMRV

04/07/2010
Xenotropic murine leukemia virus related virus (XMRV) has been implicated in prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Because XMRV is a retrovirus, it might be susceptible to antiviral drugs that are licensed for the treatment of AIDS. AZT (azidothymidine) was previously found to block XMRV replication. A screen of ...

Do you want to know what is in your vaccines?

04/02/2010
The recent discovery of contaminating porcine circovirus 1 DNA in Rotarix underscores the power of deep sequencing to ensure the purity of viral vaccines. The price of deep sequencing is now low enough that it is possible to use this technology to examine not just viral vaccines, but any biological ...

Deep sequencing reveals viral vaccine contaminants

03/29/2010
Use of the rotavirus vaccine Rotarix in the US has been temporarily suspended because the vaccine was found to be contaminated with porcine circovirus 1 DNA. The discovery was made in the laboratory of Dr. Eric Delwart, who has provided insight into what was found in Rotarix, and why he ...

Is circovirus DNA infectious?

03/27/2010
The US Food and Drug Administration does not want Rotarix, the rotavirus vaccine, to be used because it contains porcine circovirus 1 DNA. If complete copies of the circovirus genome were present, would they constitute a potential threat to recipients? Put another way, is circovirus DNA infectious?

Porcine circovirus DNA in rotavirus vaccine

03/23/2010
The US Food and Drug Administration has recommended that administration of the Rotarix vaccine, which protects against rotavirus infection, be suspended. This action comes after an independent research group found that the vaccine contains DNA of porcine circovirus type 1.

The D225G change in 2009 H1N1 influenza virus

03/19/2010
Last year a mutation in the HA gene of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus was identified in isolates from patients with severe disease. At the time I concluded that the emergence of this change was not a concern. Recently the Norwegian Institute of Public Health reported that the mutation, which ...

Contagion, the movie

03/17/2010
Contagion is the name of a new action-thriller movie about a global outbreak of a deadly viral disease. Slated to be released in 2011, it is directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Lawrence Fishburne. That’s certainly an outstanding crew, ...

Can computer viruses evolve?

03/12/2010
On a recent episode of TWiV, we posed the question, 'Can computer viruses evolve'? and asked listeners to weigh in. The author of the blog nostacktrace spent some time thinking about this issue and concludes that the evolution of real computer programs doesn't really work. Software instructions are very brittle. ...

It’s not easy to make the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus a killer

03/12/2010
The second RNA segment of some influenza virus strains encodes a protein called PB1-F2 that might contribute to virulence. Speaking about the 2009 pandemic H1N1 strain, Peter Palese noted that “If this virulence marker is necessary for an influenza virus to become highly pathogenic in humans or in chickens, then ...

Trivalent influenza vaccine for the 2010-2011 season

03/11/2010
The World Health Organization and the US Food & Drug Administration have decided on the composition of the influenza virus vaccine that will be used during the 2010-2011 season in the northern hemisphere. The trivalent preparation will contain the following influenza virus strains: A/California/7/2009 (H1N1); A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2); and B/Brisbane/60/2008. The ...

Cutting the cold chain

03/05/2010
No matter what advanced method is used to develop and produce vaccines, their efficacy is limited by old technology – the refrigerator. All viral vaccines must either be stored frozen, or kept at low temperatures. If they are not properly stored, they lose potency and do not confer protection against ...

XMRV not detected in Dutch chronic fatigue patients

02/26/2010
The suggestion that the retrovirus XMRV is the etiologic agent of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) arose from a study in which the virus was found in 68 of 101 US patients. The virus was not detected in two independent studies of 186 and 170 CFS patients in the United Kingdom. ...

Architecture of a bullet-shaped virus

02/23/2010
Since electron micrographs first revealed the bullet-shaped morphology of vesicular stomatitis virus (a virus related to rabies virus), understanding the architecture has been elusive. It was known that the RNA genome is wrapped in a helical structure by the viral nucleocapsid (N) protein, but how this structure was encased by ...

An antiviral for enveloped viruses

02/22/2010
Broad spectrum antibiotics are available that act against a wide range of bacteria, including both gram-positive and gram-negative species. In contrast, our antiviral arsenal is exceedingly specific. Nearly all the known antivirals block infection with one or two different viruses. The discovery of a compound that blocks infection with many ...

XMRV not found in 170 additional UK chronic fatigue syndrome patients

02/15/2010
A new retrovirus, xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus (XMRV), first identified in tumor tissue of individuals with prostate cancer, was subsequently found in 68 of 101 US patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). XMRV was not detected in blood samples of 186 confirmed CFS patients in the United Kingdom. A ...

Protection against 2009 influenza H1N1 by immunization with 1918-like and classical swine viruses

02/11/2010
Influenza A viruses typically cause severe respiratory disease mainly in the very young or the elderly. The 2009 swine-origin H1N1 virus is unusual because it preferentially infects individuals under 35 years of age. We’ve previously noted that being older is a good defense against 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, in part ...

Virology course videocasts

02/09/2010
This year I started a new virology course at Columbia University. The course emphasizes the common reactions that must be completed by all viruses for successful reproduction within a host cell and survival and spread within a host population. The molecular basis of alternative reproductive cycles, the interactions of viruses ...

Now playing: Viral plaque formation

02/03/2010
One of the most important procedures in virology is measuring the virus titer – the concentration of viruses in a sample. A widely used approach for determining the quantity of infectious virus is the plaque assay. In this technique, the spread of progeny viruses released by individually infected cells is ...

XMRV infection is enhanced by prostatic protein fragments

01/28/2010
Fragments of an abundant protein produced by the prostate form amyloid fibrils that enhance infection of cells by human immunodeficiency virus type 1. These fibrils, called semen-derived enhancer of virus infection (SEVI), have been found to boost infection of prostate cells by the retrovirus XMRV. Is this evidence that XMRV ...

Koch’s postulates in the 21st century

01/22/2010
For thousands of years, epidemics of contagious diseases were believed to be caused by the wrath of the gods, configuration of stars, or miasma. The association of specific microorganisms with disease came about as a consequence of the work of the German physician Robert Koch. He formulated a set of ...

A new virology course at Columbia University

01/20/2010
Tomorrow is the start of my new virology course at Columbia University. The course, Biology W3310, is aimed at advanced undergraduates and will be taught at the Morningside Campus of Columbia University.

Bornavirus DNA in the mammalian genome

01/13/2010
The chromosomal DNA of several mammals has been found to contain sequences related to the nucleoprotein (N) gene of bornaviruses, enveloped viruses with a negative-strand RNA genome. I am amazed by this finding. How did bornaviral DNA get in our chromosomes, and what is it doing there?

XMRV not detected in UK chronic fatigue syndrome patients

01/08/2010
A new retrovirus, xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus (XMRV), first identified in tumor tissue of individuals with prostate cancer, was subsequently found in 68 of 101 US patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). This observation raised the possibility that XMRV is the etiologic agent of CFS. An important question is ...

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

01/07/2010
Shortly after I wrote about my years of experience with HeLa cells, I was contacted by author Rebecca Skloot. One of her many questions was how I knew that I had produced 800 billion HeLa cells in my laboratory over 26 years. I learned that she was writing a book ...

Is bivalent poliovirus vaccine a good idea?

01/05/2010
A new bivalent poliovirus vaccine, consisting of infectious, attenuated type 1 and type 3 strains, has been deployed in Afghanistan. The use of this vaccine was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Poliomyelitis Eradication, the global technical advisory body of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Considering the polio experience in ...

Smallpox in New York City, 1947

12/22/2009
Millions of New Yorkers were immunized against smallpox within a few weeks in April 1947. The stimulus for this mass immunization was the importation of smallpox by a businessman who had acquired the disease during his travels. While we are in the middle of a massive influenza immunization campaign, it ...

Viruses and journalism: Poliovirus, HIV, and sperm

12/18/2009
In the summer of 1989, two papers about viruses were published in high-profile journals. One described the engineering of a recombinant poliovirus bearing on its surface an antigen from HIV-1. The second paper claimed that transgenic mice could be made by adding DNA to sperm before using them to fertilize ...

Can H1N1 Flu Bloggers Help Battle Pandemic Misinformation?

12/16/2009
Simon Owens looks at the impact of bloggers on the dissemination of both good and bad information about swine-origin influenza H1N1. He spoke with Vincent Racaniello of virology blog (virology.ws), Mike Coston of Avian Flu Diary (http://afludiary.blogspot.com/), and Crawford Kilian of H5N1 blog (http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/h5n1/).

AZT inhibits XMRV

12/16/2009
Xenotropic murine leukemia virus related virus (XMRV) has been implicated in prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Because XMRV is a retrovirus, it has been suggested that it might be susceptible to some of the many drugs available for treatment of AIDS. Of ten licensed compounds evaluated for activity ...

Are the bees vanishing?

12/15/2009
There is some evidence that viruses are involved in colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon in which worker bees disappear. This condition is receiving a great deal of attention ranging from basic scientific research (summarized on TWiV 46) to a PBS episode to a documentary entitled 'Colony' which says that “The ...

A broader-spectrum antiviral?

11/09/2009
Griffithsin is a sugar-binding protein identified in 2005 as an inhibitor of HIV-1. At the fall meeting of the American Cancer Society it was reported that griffithsin can also block replication of SARS virus and ebolavirus. The protein appears to act by binding carbohydrates on the virion surface and blocking ...

Zinc inhibits rhinovirus replication - profvrr does an experiment

11/07/2009
I was given a package of zinc lozenges when I contracted a cold a few weeks ago. That got me interested in the effect of zinc on rhinovirus replication. As a consequence I began a series of experiments to understand the mechanism of inhibition of viral replication by this metal. ...

Personal protective equipment and influenza

08/13/2009
The Institute of Medicine has been asked to make recommendations about how to protect healthcare workers against swine-origin H1N1 influenza. They have been hearing presentations concerning the effectiveness of facemasks in preventing respiratory infections.

TWiV 32: Influenza in silico

05/18/2009
On episode 32 of the podcast "This Week in Virology", Vincent, Alan, and Raul Rabadan converse about polio survivors in iron lungs, bocavirus, structure of mimivirus, and genome sequence analysis of influenza H1N1 viruses.

Pandemic Potential of a Strain of Influenza A (H1N1) : Early Findings

05/12/2009
The authors analyze the influenza outbreak in Mexico, and make an early assessment of transmissibility and severity.

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