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TWiV 104 Letters

Kelly writes:

I know that I am behind on this but would you please do a complete broadcast of the suspected cause of CCD (colony collapse disorder) in honey bees. I am a bee keeper and would like to know more. Please don't be afraid to dumb it down.

Also would you explain the naming of the flu viruses strains such as n1h5, n2h3, (for example n means x and h means y and the numbers mean???) Thanks for being approachable. Many knowledgeable people are very condescending and arrogant. You are not and that is important to those who are trying to learn.



Timothy writes:

Vincent et al:

I just listened to your latest podcast episode (#88) on my way to work and heard you mention the new DVD, "Naturally Obsessed." I'm wondering if you are aware of the quite similarly entitled 1999 book, "Natural Obsessions," written by Natalie Angier on the very same topic! [vr: yes, pick of the week on twiv 71]. She was allowed into the inner workings of lab of world-famous cancer researcher Robert Weinberg at MIT, and it so happened to be around the time his lab discovered the retinoblastoma gene (Rb), which as you know is a key regulatory of cell growth and is a favorite target for many of the DNA viruses. Might this be "title/concept plagerism," or alternatively perhaps is it obvious to non-scientists that we scientists are just very obsessive people?????

By the way, like everyone else who's emails you read on the air, I really enjoy your podcasts. I discovered twiv when browsing iTunes for something that I could listen to when NPR turns to all of the depressing stories on war and politics during my commute. I was hooked when the first episode I listened to that I picked randomly from recent ones featured Grant McFadden discussing virotherapy for cancer, as that is my field and he gives great talks at meetings. (My PhD thesis was in virology -- HPV -- but I became a pediatric oncologist and now study virotherapy for children's cancer.)

One more thing: I know the following is probably a sad statement of the times in which we live and the fact that we are all too busy, but I was delighted to discover I can listen to twiv at 2X speed on my iPod Touch and understand everything very clearly. The pitch, lilt, and cadence of all of your voices speeds up just fine, and I can get twice as many episodes in as I might otherwise be able to catch! (Note: Note everyone's voice is amenable to fast-forward -- I can't speed up Futures in Biotech as well because Marc talks so fast!)

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to help the wonder of viruses go viral.


James writes:

Hello Professors,

I am glad you said something in episode 89 that the scientific community needs to step up its PR game. I already did something small about it. I started influencing my friends with what interests me in science. I wrote this article early June and would appreciate it if you critique it.(if you have the time)

Thank you,

James, ASCP(CG)

Cytogenetics Technologist

PS Keep up the great work and love your show! Thank you for answering my question about "if human cancer cells grew a resistance to viruses," a few episodes back.

Connie writes:

Hello Vincent and Alan,

I am an avid TWIV and TWIP listener, being a Ph.D. molecular geneticist who is also a practicing veterinarian (another one of those who trained and then didn't see herself chasing the grant dollar and waiting years for results). I love both shows and your communal erudition and humor.


twice now (once on TWIP and now again on TWIV), a veterinarian's perspective is sorely lacking (the TWIP "incident" was simply a slight misunderstanding of a parasitic zoonosis). This time the commentary was a bit offensive regarding veterinary vaccine guidelines and motivations for those guidelines. Since 2006, AAHA (as well as a number of other professional bodies) has set vaccine guidelines that define "core vaccines" for dogs and cats. 3 year duration of immunity is standard for those core vaccines (Parvo and Distemper for dogs, Rhinotracheitis and Panleukopenia for cats with Rabies durations set via a combination of manufacturer and state standards). I refer you to the synopsis

While it is true that a few practitioners have been slow to embrace the new guidelines, most have and it is mark of a high quality practice to do so. Sadly, because companion animal medicine has scant research dollars, we are left primarily with manufacturer-funded research and so had no vaccine (other than Rabies) labelled for 3 year duration of immunity until quite recently. Titers are also quite effective for Distemper and Parvo so are frequently done in lieu of vaccines. I will say also that, having spent an externship on the Navajo reservation where vaccination rates are low, the core vaccines are vitally important.

Just to let you know that the bulk of what we do consists of a high mastery of most things medical and surgical (my days are spent with congestive heart failure, diabetes and other endocrine disorders, renal failure, autoimmune diseases, dermatologic disease, urolithiasis, pneumonia, peritonitis, splenic, renal and hepatic masses, hyperlipidemia to name a few while being able to perform nearly all abdominal surgical procedures and fracture fixation, as well being pretty handy with abdominal and cardiac ultrasound in addition to trauma medicine---the caseload and variety having much to do with the fact that most purebred dogs come from tiny founder populations with an excessive amount of inbreeding as well as small animals' prediliction to try to kill themselves with vehicles and toxins). Sadly as well, I have to keep up with the human literature (NEJM, Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, Annals of Emergency Med as well) since my own branch is so underfunded that much of what we do is extrapolitive.

These are 10-12 hour days for a median national salary of $75,000 per year with vaccines accounting for probably 1% of my income. To put it in perspective: I nearly choked on my biscuit when Sara Palin made fun of C. Elegans research ("millions of dollars to study worms!" I believe was the quote) so please don't "Palin" the veterinarian. We try very hard to do good medicine at low cost.

I forgive you but do want you to be slightly sensitive to your fellow science geeks.

Connie DVM (and Ph.D.-which-is-not-on-my-business-card)

Portland, OR

Heather writes:

Dear TWiV,

I am a 3rd year medical student here at Columbia. Dr. Despommier actually interviewed me when I applied and had a lot to do with my decision to choose this school, and then he told us about TWiV during a Parasitology small group session last fall and had a lot to do with my listening to this show when I should be studying for exams!

I know that this is rather tangential to the topic of virology, but I wanted to comment on the SMN1 and SMN2 genes mentioned in the discussion of Andrew's letter in TWiV #88. SMN1 and SMN2 are actually different genes located near each other in the human genome. Other mammals only have SMN1 - SMN2 arose due to a gene duplication in humans. Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is due to a mutation in SMN1 that causes improper splicing of the mRNA, resulting in a nonfunctional protein. The mRNA for SMN2 is spliced like SMN1 should be spliced about 10% of the time, so it can actually serve as a "rescue" for the defective SMN1. Different individuals have different numbers of the duplicated SMN2 gene in their genome, so there are different severities of SMA - those with more copies of SMN2 make enough of the "close enough" protein that the disease may be fairly mild, while those with few copies of SMN2 can have severe disease, perhaps even dying in infancy.


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