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TWiV 155 Letters

Kim writes:

To the TWiVerati Intelligencia,

Each week you begin your show with the tagline, "This Week in Virology: The podcast about viruses, the kind that make you sick."

I recognize that viruses have been responsible for some of the biggest epidemics and plagues of man, beast and plantlife. But as a long-time TWiV listener, it seems like you also cover viruses have that "positive" effects/impacts on our planet -- viruses that are used for varied things as batteries and to fight other pathogens or pathogenic responses. All the work being done on the microbiome suggests that keeping the correct balance of our symbiotic critters (including viruses) may be even more important than which ones are living inside us or on us. So even though it's catchy, maybe you should reconsider the tagline in an effort to cultivate respect for viruses instead of fear?

Thanks for the great 90 minutes of informative science and thoughtful discussion each week, no matter how you pitch it!


P.S. It's cloudy and 22 degrees Celsius.

Luiza writes:

Hi, Professor Racaniello,

I'm a Doctorate student from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and I'm going to attend the Brasilian Virology Meeting next week. I'm also attending a discipline on my university about Scientific Divulgation, and the students should produce a podcast every week to post on the discipline website. I would like to know if you would accept to give me a short interview during the Meeting next week. It would be an honor if we could have an interview with someone so concerned with Scientific Divulgation (in Brazil, people are still starting to give attention and importance to this matter). Hope You can accept it!

Best wishes,


Laboratório de Genética e Imunologia das Infecções Virais - IMPPG

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro, RJ - Brasil

Vinayaka writes:

The entire saga of the possible (now absent) link between XMRV and CFS that has nearlyconcluded, as discussed in TWIV 150, reminded me of the need for scientists to have the right level of tenacity in their scientific belief. A fabulous guidance on how to do this is provided in an article by R. A. Lyttleton called ‘The Nature of Knowledge’ in a book I read very, very long ago – “The Encyclopedia of Ignorance” (edited by Ron Duncan and Miranda Weston-Smith - 1977).

Lyttleton graphically represents one’s scientific belief, in any concept or hypothesis, as a bead on a straight line. The two extremes of this line are 0 (complete disbelief) and 1 (complete certainty). He argues that one should allow his/her bead to move in either direction based on the accumulation of evidence in favor or against. For example, if you believe greatly in favor of a concept, you allow your bead to approach 1. When evidence disproving that concept is presented, you should be able to move towards the opposite direction. However, he cautions that at the very ends of this straight line, there are deep emotional pits. If one letstheir belief to go too far to either end, they will fall into the deep pit and when the evidence does accumulate against that concept/hypothesis, they will be unable to move towards the other end. We know some people who are already in the pit – Peter Duesberg is one. There are obviously others. I do hope that everyone involved in the XMRV saga, including Dr. Mikavits, will recalibrate and move away to a new position on the line before falling in the emotional pit.

Keep up the fantastic work with TWIV – I will be listening in for years to come….

- Prasad


Vinayaka R. Prasad, Ph. D.

Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Director, AIDS International Training and Research Program

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

David writes:

Dear TWiV: enjoy your podcasts, but not being a virologist can have some disadvantages when it comes to trying to understand virology. Two questions for you that have been gnawing at me lately:

1) I cannot understand how any truly novel virus can be discovered using tools that require knowing what to look for: PCR primers have to be made against a known sequence in order to specifically amplifiy it; antibodies have to be made that bind to specific antigens, which means you have to have the antigen you're looking for in hand before making antibodies necessary to detect it (did that make sense?). It's very much like generals fighting the last war--how can anyone claim to have found anything totally new and different if the tools and reagents are specific for what is already known? It's a which-came-first-the-chicken-vs.-egg issue: how can anybody find anything truly novel using reagents and tools that depend on having some pre-knowledge/bias of what to look for? I can understand how these tools would be useful for finding simliar viruses, but how can anyone claim that these specifically limited tools and reagents can find dis-similar/novel stuff that has never been encountered before?

2) I just figured out how Western blots are supposed to work. But if they are prepared by running proteins down a denaturing SDS/PAGE gel, then transferred to a blot, and finally probed with a detecting antibody, doesn't the antibody have to be specific for the denatured protein of interest? Isn't it sort of like looking for an egg (the native protein) by detecting scrambled eggs (the protein after being denatured and transferred to a membrane for detection)? So again, unless you previously know what an intact egg already looks like, how are you supposed to deduce anything about an egg (in native, original form) if the methods require you to scramble it up (denature them) in order to detect them? Hope this question makes sense.

Thanks for the podcasts, learning much,

Not A Virologist

Antonio writes:

Hello there, acTWiVists!
Thank you so much for these podcasts. I'm a Filipino programmer / tech geek who's been following the three of you since the Nile River virus episode. I've been absolutely captivated by this window you give the world into biology and the life sciences.
Your other student listeners might find the Nature Video covering the 2011 Nobel Laureates' Meeting in Lindau fascinating. There're five short films there featuring one-on-one dialogue between a student and a Nobel laureate who're both working in the same field - shedding insight on the passing of the torch between generations in science.
All the best,

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