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TWiV 199 Letters

Nels writes:

Dear Vincent,

A note of gratitude to you and your crew for generously “interrogating” my recent paper on the experimental evolution of vaccinia virus.

BTW, it was evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen (not Richard Dawkins) who proposed and coined the Red Queen Hypothesis in 1973. Leigh was a true character and early advocate of open access publishing. His original manuscript on the Red Queen was published in Evolutionary Theory, a journal he created and self-published at the University of Chicago; still available free and now online at, along with some interesting stories about this unconventional and brilliant scientist who recently passed away.

Count me as a new listener and fan of TWiV!

Best wishes, Nels

Nels Elde | Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Mario R. Capecchi Endowed Chair of Genetics
Department of Human Genetics
University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT

Marian writes (re Red Queen’s hypothesis):

from Wikipedia,

“Originally proposed by Leigh Van Valen (1973), the metaphor of an evolutionary arms race has been found appropriate for the descriptions of biological processes with dynamics similar to arms races. Van Valen proposed the Red Queen’s Hypothesis as an explanatory tangent to his proposed “Law of Extinction” (also 1973), which he derived from observation of constant probabilities of extinction within families of organisms across geological time. Put differently, Van Valen found that the ability of a family of organisms to survive does not improve over time, and that the lack of correlation between age and extinction is suggestive of a random process[3]. The Red Queen’s Hypothesis as formulated by Van Valen provides a conceptual underpinning to discussions of evolutionary arms races, even though a direct test of the hypothesis remains elusive, particularly at the macroevolutionary level. This concept remains similar to that of a system obeying a self-organized criticality.[4]”

Tommy writes:

Dear TWiV crew,

I was listening to TWiV 198 and the Red Queen hypothesis of antagonistic coevolution was brought up. I thought I should make a correction regarding the originator of the Red Queen hypothesis. You attributed it to Richard Dawkins, however, the term “Red Queen hypothesis” was actually coined by the evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen in 1973*.

*Van Valen, L. 1973. “A new evolutionary law” Evolutionary Theory 1: 1-30. Link to full text here:

You can read more about Van Valen in this obituary here:

Love the show, keep up the good work


P.S. I listened to the end so I know that I shouldn’t be hanging out for a show this week.

Adam writes:

Howdy TWiVites,

Loved the recent episode (TWiV 198) in which you discussed Nels Elde’s paper investigating ‘genomic accordions’ of poxviruses. Elde describes in his paper a mechanism of transient gene family expansion that allows poxviruses to rapidly generate variation in genes whose products interact with host proteins, thereby overcoming host defenses. He goes on to refer to this evolutionary game of cat-and-mouse between viral and host proteins as a classical Red Queen conflict.

In the episode there was some musing about the term ‘Red Queen Hypothesis’ and it was decided that the term was coined by Prof. Richard Dawkins in his book of the same name. ‘The Red Queen’ was indeed the title of a popular science book, of the general flavor that Dawkins writes, however it was authored by Matt Ridley and entitled ‘The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature’ (an excellent read and available from $7.99 on Amazon).

The Red Queen Hypothesis itself was first proposed by yet another great scientist and communicator Prof Leigh Van Valen (University of Chicago). In his 1973 paper ‘A New Evolutionary Law’ Van Valen used the analogy of Lewis Carrol’s Red Queen – forever running just to say put – to explain a self-perpetuating fluctuation in fitness between two or more evolutionary units (species or genes) arising from mutually incompatible optima.

I have to thank you for making this mistake, as it has led me to actually read Van Valen’s paper in full – which I had not done before, despite having cited it in a number of undergrad essays. There is something really enjoyable about reading old papers where the authors wax philosophical (sic) on their topic, and it is a nice change from the dense, ultra-concise papers that are standard these days. Whether this was because they had less data to cram into figures, fewer authors, or the journals were less pressed for space back then I do not know. Maybe all of the above in this case seeing as this article was the first, in the first edition, of a journal that Van Valen founded.

Probably because I have more pressing uni work I should be doing I spent quite a bit of time reading about Prof Van Valen, who died in 2010. He was a pretty amazing guy who wrote on many subjects, taught and was beloved by his students, contributed several original ideas to his fields, founded journals, and even wrote explicit songs about dinosaurs.

I would like to nominate Leigh Van Valen as a pick of the week – by way of his memorial site at

A few choice links: Sex among the Dinosaurs – A New Evolutionary Law (Van Valen, 1973)-

Kind Regards, Adam
Melbourne, Australia (18C with a chance of rain)

PS: If nothing else, go check out the Acknowledgements section of Van Valen’s ‘A New Evolutionary Law’ (1973).

Josh writes:

Dear TWiV Doctors,

I have a question about the paper discussed last week on the Emergence of Fatal Avian Influenza in New England Harbor Seals.

What I cannot figure out is if they were looking for an Influenza virus from the start. I mean, I assume if you sample a bunch (5 in this case) of seals, you are going to get a bunch of viruses. Did they report the detection of any other viruses in the seals? I listened to your segment again and read the paper on mBio. The paper says this:

Nucleic acids extracted from lung, trachea, liver, kidney, thoracic lymph node, mesenteric lymph node, spleen, skin lesion, and oral mucosa were tested by PCR for the presence of a wide range of pathogens, including herpesviruses, poxviruses, adenoviruses, polyomaviruses, caliciviruses, paramyxoviruses, astroviruses, enteroviruses, flaviviruses, rhabdoviruses, orbiviruses, and influenza viruses.

They looked for a wide range of pathogens, but I can’t find something that says we found ONLY H3N8 Influenza. Am I reading it wrong? It just seems odd that they found nothing else. However, I’m not a scientist, so maybe I’ve misunderstood.



Simon Anthony replies:

Hi Vincent,

Thanks for the question! Your listener is quite right, we did find other viruses in those animals. I have a strong interest in the ecology of co-infection, so was very keen to see what other viruses might be present. We also found herpesviruses and adenoviruses in addition to the influenza, though none of these viruses were found in all five animals, and none could be linked to the observed pathology. Interestingly, we found three different adenoviruses. Two of them were known seal adenoviruses, and one was actually an avian adenovirus!! So it would seem that avian influenza was not the only avian viruses that spilled over. In addition we performed deep-sequencing and identified some novel picornaviruses. We’re working those up now, but would love to chat more about them with you at some point.

Hope all is well over the road! S.

Scott writes:

New ‘Heartland’ Virus Discovered in Sick Missouri Farmers

Dear Vince,

I’m a fan of your pod casts and thought you might be interested in the article if you haven’t heard of it yet.

with respect,


Mark writes:

Could you please discuss the relationship between HPV vaccine and GB, also it would be interesting to know what causes GB and its relationship to Polyradiculoneuritis (coonhound paralysis) and MS. Do these diseases have any viral relationship, thanks. i listen to the show while gardening.


Justin writes:

Hey TWIV team!

I have been listening to your podcast for only a few months but listen with rapt attention on my way to work each morning. I was shown the podcast by my professor in my intro Virology class during my last semester of my undergrad in Cell and Molecular Biology. I have recently graduated and decided not to immediately re-enter academia for several reasons. The first being I have no idea what type of degree I am going to pursue (MD PhD or hopefully both). Also and largely I am training as an Elite trampolinist with my sights set on the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Unfortunately that means I plan to put the vast amount of my focus in effort in that venue of my life for the next four years and after I retire would like find a school with a good program without worrying where I will be training. Since, that could put me out of school until 2016 I am terrified I will lose my edge for applying for school when the time comes. I am trying to stay sharp with your podcasts and reading articles that pique my interest, but I don't think it will be enough. My most recent idea is to take the GRE this year and then apply for a masters program in either the biochemistry department or the biology department which includes cell biology, molecular biology, immunology, and virology research areas at a local university. I flip-flop between the two departments because I've heard on your show the importance of chemistry education for virology and that my research adviser previously advised me to not educate myself in solely one discipline. My questions to the TWIV team are whether this is a good plan considering my goals and which department you would most recommend for me? Thank you so much and keep putting out the viral podcasts!

p.s. make sure you watch trampoline in the Olympics, we can reach heights of almost 30 feet!!! Or get excited and take a peek on youtube by searching Olympic trampoline!

Victor writes:

Greetings, Twividese

In episode 191, the subject of working smart and not long came up. When Rich mentioned multitasking, I couldn't help but think of the lifehacker article on the subject.
It goes on to explain why multitasking (as most people do it) reduces your over all productivity. It's a great read, and is changing the way I work.

Here is another article on the same subject:


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