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TWiV 187 Letters

Don writes:

thank you all for sharing your knowledge in such a comprehensible manner. Thank you also for your stand against bureaucratic censorship in the H5N1 research, and your win. I have two questions. Is H5N1 a highly specific test for a human genotype/?phenotype, and if those who died of the disease were sequenced would that give a good estimate of the true risk for the rest of us? Question two concerns the genetic code, AGCT &U Are there reasons of physics or chemistry that make this the only way to archive information, or is it just Mr darwin"s best shot to date?. And why uracil is it a chip of an old rosetta stone? Again, thanks so much for your hard work and excellent podcast.

Gerald writes:

Hey TWIV-ites,

I'm a 32 year old, low-waged data-entry clerk without a college education and I've been unsure of what to do with my life over the past decade. It's not until I listened to science podcasts like TWIS and TWIV that I began to reevaluate what I want in life. Your podcasts jump started me into going back to college to get an Associate in Arts for Teaching Secondary (Biology) for High School or Middle School. Your engaging and insightful conversations gave me something worthwhile to strive for where otherwise I was a little lost. I thank all of you for the interesting conversations and for keeping it on a level that the general public can follow (for the most part). I'm particularly happy when Alan joins the group. I have always enjoyed his stark, careful logic when approaching a perspective or problem brought up in the program. Anyways, keep up the good work for us fans and I'll be listening down in Miami.

William writes:

Good day again TWiV Doctors,

The ethics statement in the Sim et al paper is geared more towards 1) the use of animals to maintain the colony outside of experimental infections, and 2) using the mice in the host seeking assay. The mosquitoes used in this study are a long colonized lab strain, and are typically maintained generation to generation by feeding on an animal, often a mouse, although chickens are also used.

Hope that this provides a little clarification,


Graduate Research Assistant

Department of Biology

New Mexico State University

Kevin writes:

Dr. Racaniello and compatriots,

Something that has come up again and again in discussion over things like chronic fatigue syndrome and influenza is *sampling* and the different medical measures considered.

I just saw a paper published by some computer security researchers at Microsoft who discuss some fundamental sampling problems. Their focus is computer crime statistics, but the problems described apply widely to other fields and make an interesting read:

(1) "a representative sample of the population doesn't give a representative picture of the surveyed quality"

(2) "outliers can cause catastrophic errors"

(3) "for rare phenomenon we are measuring a signal weaker than the noise in which it is embedded"

And it has a great title: "Sex, Lies and Cybercrime Surveys"


For what it's worth, I'd love it if you had an episode with some computer security folks, to chat about statistics, responsible vulnerability disclosure, and possibly also viruses.

Geoffrey writes:


How Many more Pieces of Biological Machinery Are Byproducts of Viral Infections?

To quote the narrator in the old Tootsie Pop commercials, “The world may never know.”, but I would like to suggest that the venom genes in reptiles and platypuses are just such a mechanism. I admit that I know little about the evolution of the venom systems but a gene sequence search might just show some close matches with either viral or bacterial sequences. It would certainly be fun to find out, one way or the other.


Robin writes:

Dear TWIV team:

Podcast #179 was amazing. The wasp using integrated viral capsidization genes for a vehicle to deliver its own immunomodulatory genes to target caterpillar cells is Nature more imaginative than the best of science fiction. It compels a further rethinking of basic concepts as to what organisms really are. Cladograms of the tree of life overlook the fusion of mitochondrial lineage with an anaerobic lineage to produce eukaryotes. Viruses are para-organisms that alter properties of cells; their integration into cell lineages is a reminder that nucleic acids are the players and we are epi-epi-phenomena after several layers of emergence overlying them. That includes all of biology and all of what we call "civilisation"!

Tom writes:

Dear Dr. Racaniello and colleagues (sorry, couldn't think of a more clever TWiV appellation that hasn't already been used),

As always, I'm very grateful for the show. I have a small suggestion that might help spread TWiV to more people. Many sites and online articles use "buttons" to automatically create links that can be shared on social networking sites like facebook or social news sites like reddit. Reddit especially has a large community of science-appreciative lay folks just waiting to get infected by TWiV. These sharing buttons could appear at the header for each week's episode, along with the retweet button you already use. I would also suggest these for Alan Dove's blogs. His recent entry on bee colony collapse disorder was great, and it's the kind of thing that should be spread online to as many readers as possible.

Also, while I'm writing, I have to throw in my thoughts on the Fahrenheit/Celsius issue. I completely agree that we would all be better off using more of the metric system for weight, distance, etc. But, I'm very partial to the Fahrenheit scale for describing the weather. While zero to one hundred in Celsius perfectly describes the the range of temperatures we use in liquid water-based chemistry and biology, zero to one hundred in Fahrenheit neatly caps the extremes of temperature we experience in most weather. Hundred point scales make sense to me. It just depends on what you're describing.

Anyway, looking forward to your upcoming two hundredth episode benchmark. TWiV is a great show, and it's really influencing how science can be communicated.

Best regards,


Nina writes:


This question is not entirely to do with viruses, but I really enjoy your podcasts and couldn't think of anyone else who would have scientific theories.

I have been reading alot lately about two different topics. 1) how diet and stress impact epigenetic regulation and how, for example, a bad diet may impact gene regulation and lead to disease states. 2) The paleo diet (and other plans) that insist grains are bad for your health--mostly stating that since the eating of grain evolved only, say, 10,000 years ago, humans are not well equipped to digest and this can lead to poor disease states. I can't find any scientific evidence towards these last claims. It doesn't seem really logical. This would mean that any agricultural progress is not healthy for us? It does seem healthy to cut down sugar intake, especially all of these high carb beverages out there today, and to limit grains...but to cut these things out all together?

What is your scientific opinion on how what you eat impacts health. Can a bad diet lead to a higher susceptibility to a cold or maybe even cancer? What makes up a good diet? There seems to be so many opinions and non-scientific claims out there it's hard to discern fact from fiction.

Thanks for any thoughts on this!

David writes:

Since the topic of personal genomics has come up a few times lately, I thought this might be a good pick of the week. It is a Nova program on ethical and other questions raised by personal genomics. How ready are people to know their own genetic code? What would you do if you find out you are susceptible to heart disease? Or what would you do if your genes suggest you are not?



Josh writes:

Dear TWiV Doctors,

Here is my selection for a Listener Pick of the Week.

It's a 2009 editorial in Bioterror and Biosecurity, entitled the "Nuclearization of Biology is a Threat to Health and Security" by David R. Franz, Susan A. Ehrlich, Arturo Casadevall, Michael J. Imperiale, and Paul S. Keim.

Since Dr. Imperiale was on the show discussing these issues a few weeks ago, I thought it would be relevant.




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