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TWiV 112 Letters

Jennie writes:

I love your show very much and this is not my first comment. I load firewood and paint as I listen to you guys, thanks so much for the inspiration over what is becoming years. I'm not an audio learner, though my mind is quite stimulated by what I hear. I've purchased Dick's book which I love.

(2 parts: Reader pick and Question.)

(FIRST) I have a reader pick for you. I'm an RN with an interest in science, I've been trying to teach myself about the immune system. I've gone through some books that were too complicated (Roits) and too simple, and kept shopping for one that had it all...I seem to have found it and want to recommend it to you and your listeners:

The Immune System by Peter Parham (third edition) put out by Garland Science. He is on faculty at Stanford University where he is Professor in the Departments of Structural Biology and Microbiology and Immunology. This is an excellent book, good structure, knowledge building moves logically and progressively. He doesn't get stuck with pet ideas, nice pictures (for visual folks like me). And, at the end of each chapter is a test...I recognize now that open book tests really help my brain to grab the new information.

(SECOND) OK, here's a QUESTION from a person who is really not qualified to ask the question (me!)

Regarding the TWiV 87: A PHIREside chat with Professor Graham Hatfull...GREAT episode by the way, I SO enjoyed it.

A person named Jason sent a link to "Scientist Infected by a Computer Virus".

OK, WAIT A MINUTE! Infected with the virus? And not only "infected" but his body became a conduit for (replicated?) viral information so that it could be transferred to his computer?

There must be some leap over basic rules of viral infection going on here. So...what are the rules? Don't viruses have to bind to human sialic acid receptors? Don't they have to have specific mechanisms for making the cell do their bidding in generating copies of their genetic information?

1) Does what happened to this scientist constitute "infection?

2) Does that article seem a little too simple to you, and is the TechWorld site reliable?

3) Last but not least: what would be the mechanism by which binary computer information could (replicate???) infect a wet human body...I'm not getting it at all. I don't even understand how it could be released by the chip (as a particle?) or picked up by the computer (as a particle...or as digital would it be assessed?)

Another related question: we are not "infected" by the phage viruses that infect our gut bacteria...? In other words, a virus can be present in our body somewhere, but not infecting our own human cells...because "infection" is a specific process. True or what would you say on this?

Love your show and look forward to enjoying your answer on your podcast.

Yours with warmest regards

Jennie of Oneonta, NY (Read below for article)

"A British scientist claims to have become the first human to be infected by a computer virus, in an experiment he says has important implications for the future of implantable technology.

Dr Mark Gasson from the University of Reading infected a computer chip which was then implanted in his hand with the virus and then transmitted it to a PC to prove that malware can move between human and computer.

Chips that can be implanted into the body have been around for a while, and Gasson uses one in place of a security pass to gain secure access to the building, and to activate his mobile phone. But he says the implications for computer viruses in implants are far-reaching, and could potentially affect those with pacemakers and other medical devices.

Speaking to the BBC, Gasson said someone with an infected chip implant could potentially infect someone else, while a person with two devices under the skin could run the risk of viruses passing between the two chips.

"With the benefits of this type of technology come risks," Gasson told the BBC. "We may improve ourselves in some way but much like the improvements with other technologies, mobile phones for example, they become vulnerable to risks."

Brent writes:

Hi guys, love the podcasts. Esp the history behind the discoveries. When I was at primary school there was an animated movie that showed the immune system fighting the germs they looked like blobs with steel helmets and guns fighting the nasty germs. It was shown around the second half of the 1970s. Do you have any idea what it was called and if there are any copies available.

Cheers and keep up the good work


Jamie writes:

ss (+) RNA W/ DNA intermediate

Why is the replication of this virus type so different from ss(+)RNA? Where is the DNA intermediate coming from?

Charles writes:

Dear Twiv,

I have been posed with the question "Do Viruses ever encode the ability to decode mRNA" and am unsure how to answer it. Could you please provide clarification on the explanation?



Jon writes:

I'm not sure I am happy with this one - Dickson looks a a little too evil for my liking =)

Anyway if there are better photos I should use let me know =).

Jeff writes:

Hi guys,

I'm a postdoc working in a virology lab who recently discovered your show. I really enjoy it and got another grad student in the lab hooked on it too.

I have been listening to some of your archived shows and heard a question in TWiV #73 about applying drugs targeting reverse transcriptase to the treatment of cancer causing viruses. You guys mentioned that HBV has RT activity and could possibly be targeted with the same drugs, but did a quick search to find that AZT (or zidovudine) doesn't work. It's true that AZT doesn't work, but there are 2 HIV inhibitors that are effective against HBV and have been approved by the NIH for this purpose: lamivudine (or 3TC) and tenofovir (which made headlines as the first moderately successful topical anti-HIV gel).

You also indicated that RT inhibitors are unlikely to be effective against other viruses that don't have RT, but I thought it worth mentioning that nucleoside analogs are often effective against diverse viral polymerases. Adefovir, another approved treatment for HBV, is quite similar to tenofovir and has been shown to have anti-HIV and anti-herpesvirus activity. As you probably know, many of the approved treatments for herpesviruses, hepatitis C virus, and other viruses are nucleoside or nucleotide analogs that are not so different from RT inhibitors. Like RT, viral DNA polymerases are more likely to be inhibited by these analogs than cellular polymerases, making these types of compounds so useful as antivirals.

Just thought I would add my two cents. Keep up the good work.


Chad writes:


I just recently started listening to your podcast after hearing about it so much on Futures in Biotech. I was a bit resistant at first. Though I am grad student in molecular biology, I work with plants, not viruses, so I wasn't sure how much I would really get from it. I have to admit I enjoy it greatly and have learned quite a bit. So thanks for putting out one of the best science podcasts around. Listening to you're latest podcast (# 100), I was very much interested in the discussions regarding science education. Of course I agree that more is needed, but I was wondering, how much is enough? Its already known that many students lack sufficient understanding in even more basic and essential skills like mathematics and reading. As much as a greater scientific literacy is needed amongst the general population, reality is that there is only so much that can be taught in elementary, middle school, and high school. Given the breadth of topics in Science that must be covered (physics, chemistry, biology, etc) what is essential and what can we do without? I don't want to come across as skeptical/critical of the calls for more or better science education, but when these calls are made, rarely do I see anyone answer the necessary question of what is critical for students to learn.



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