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TWiV 92 Letters

Destainie writes:

Hi Vincent et Al :)

I am an avid listener of both Twiv and Twip and am very grateful that you all take the time each week to create these wonderful podcasts, they are a great learning tool! I did have several questions I’d like to ask. My first has to do with HIV. It is my understanding that currently doctors use combinations of three different anti-virals to treat and manage the infection and this is due to HIV ability to evolve quickly and become drug resistant. My question is why does HIV evolve so quickly compared with other viruses? Or does it only seem faster because the immune system can’t fight it off? What would happen if you increased the combination to 4, 5 or even 10 antivirals?

My second question is since we know that viruses evolve and become drug resistant is there any way to try to predict the way a certain virus will evolve such that we can try to prevent or prolong drug resistance? My guess is probably not but it would be nice if we could.

My last and final question (for now) has to do with a podcast I heard a while back where you mentioned that a lot of Immunologist and/or Virologist are retiring soon. I am in the process of studying for the GRE and I plan on applying this fall for Immunology programs… since you know the field better than I which ones would you recommend? I should mention that my interests right now would be for a Immunology program with an emphasis in virology if I could and I actually would absolutely love if I could become a double doctor and combine this degree with an MD. I find the human body’s ability to fend off invaders and heal completely fascinating, such that I would be more than happy to devote my life to studying it!

Thank you for all that you do,


Merry writes:

Hi, Vincent & TWIV,

I particularly enjoyed this week's chat with Graham Hatfull as I am a phage enthusiast. He certainly gave the phage their rightful due! And I appreciated the mention of the blog that Elio Schaechter and I write, Small Things Considered, as well as Graham selecting Forest Rohwer's book (Coral Reefs in Microbial Seas) as his pick-of-the-week.

Also in the pick-of-the-week, you enthusiastically praised the great breadth of information contained in John Ingraham's recent book, March of the Microbes. I have my own copy close at hand here. When I received it, I turned eagerly to Chapter 10, Viruses -- my favorite topic. He, like TWIV, focuses on those that make us (or other animals) sick. Not a word in that chapter about the phage. Of course, he has to be selective as he is covering a vast territory in one book. However, he does not simply ignore them. On the first page of that chapter he sets the tone by quoting two Nobel laureates. First, David Baltimore, who said about viruses: "If they weren't here, we wouldn't miss them." That is followed by Peter Medawar's quip describing a virus as "a piece of bad news wrapped in a protein." Both highly quotable quotes.

But considering the ecological and environmental role of viruses in general, and phage in particular, his view of viruses seems incomplete. Would you, Rich, and Alan care to share your thoughts about this?

All the best,

Merry Youle (Small Things Considered)

Jack writes:

Hello Vince,

I discovered TWIV recently and I have become a big fan - keep it up. I have been teaching an undergraduate Introductory Virology course for over 30 years - initially for 10 years at UC Berkeley and now at Nebraska. TWIV will become a requirement for my course this Fall. We have some excellent virology programs here. We recently consolidated all human, animal, algal & plant virology into one building - check out I just added a link to your Blog on our website.

I have been going through all of the TWIV episodes this summer. I am a plant virologist and I recall one episode in which the discussion focused on innate immunity. It turns out that plants have an innate immune system with toll-like receptors and MAP kinase cascades. There is also an adaptive immune layer - RNA silencing. This is what we work on. It might be a fun topic for a future TWIV.

I am also interested in Dick's enthusiasm in "vertical farming". I read his essays and it all sounds quite promising. What struck me, somewhat ironically, is the potential virology connection. One of the major threats to greenhouse food production are plant viruses. Commercial operations have gone bellyup because they have not been able to successfully control the spread of viruses. Most problems result because the viruses are contact transmitted through roots and soil. Interestingly, some of these viruses like Tomato Bushy Stunt (the 1st icosahedron to be structurally resolved by Steve Harrison) pass right through the human gut and become contaminates in waterways used for irrigation. All quite interesting biology.

Keep up the good work. You are doing a great service to the discipline.

T. Jack Morris
Distinguished Professor
School of Biological Sciences
University of Nebraska

Caleb writes:

Hello TWiV guys,

I'm in 6th grade and I love your podcast. I have a few questions. What is the biggest virus? What are viriods and prions and virophages? Thanks for all your time and for the great podcast.

Caleb W.

[Caleb: check out TWiV #23 on the biggest and smallest viruses and virophages, TWiV #24 on viroids, and TWiV #12 and #67 on prions]


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