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A mad cow in America

A dairy cow in California is the fourth known American case of mad cow disease, which is caused by prions, infectious agents composed only of protein (the story hit the press the day after my lecture on this type of illness). Unlike viruses, prions have no nucleic acid and no protective coat. Bu... Read More

MicroRNAs and Retroviral Integrity

Jamie Henzy, a postdoctoral researcher at Boston College, has authored a post on Small Things Considered that explores the shady world of the deltaretrovirus genus.

"Among retroviruses, the deltaretrovirus genus is something of a shady bunch, its members lurking in the shadows, causing troubl... Read More

TWiV 162 Letters

Sarah writes:


Hello to the TWiV crew,


Here are a couple of picks I thought would be good for provoking thought and generating discussion...


While working on a project, I came across some papers attempting to define what "critical thinking" means. I app... Read More

Are there viruses of arsenic-utilizing bacteria?

A salt-loving (halophilic) bacterium which can grow in medium containing arsenic instead of phosphorus has been selected from the microbial community of Mono Lake in California. Arsenic (As) is a chemical analog of phosphorus and is usually toxic because it can enter metabolic pathways in the pl... Read More

Finding the key to strengthening the immune response to chronic infections

A team of researchers from The Wistar Institute has identified a protein that could serve as a target for reprogramming immune system cells exhausted by exposure to chronic viral infection into more effective "soldiers" against certain viruses like HIV, hepatitis C, and hepatitis B, as well as s... Read More

New Elsevier Slogan: “It’s All about The Benjamins”

Rich Condit found an article highly critical of the original Wakefield study (claiming a link between MMR vaccine and autism) which was published in the same issue of Lancet. He asked the publisher, Elsevier, to open up the article to non-subscribers so he could recommend it as a pick of the wee... Read More

Genome Wide Manipulation of the Bacterial Chromosome in Vivo

On the Small Things Considered blog, Michael Schmidt, Professor and Vice Chairman of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, reviews a recent paper entitled "Precise Manipulation of Chromosomes in Vivo Enables Genome-Wide Codon Replacement" by Church and colleagu... Read More

Is Vilyuisk encephalitis a viral disease?

A type of human encephalitis – an infection of the brain – has been known to affect the indigenous people living in the Sakha Republic of Russia since the mid-1800s. The available clinical and epidemiological evidence suggests that the disease is caused by a pathogen, but proving this has been d... Read More

A new target for hepatitis C virus

When infection with hepatitis C virus goes from acute to chronic, severe liver disease may occur which requires organ transplantation. Nearly 200 million people are chronically infected with HCV, necessitating approaches to preventing and treating infections. No HCV vaccine is available, and cur... Read More

A bad day for science

The virologists who carried out the contentious experiments on influenza H5N1 transmission in ferrets have agreed to remove certain details from their manuscript, according to ScienceInsider. This is a bad day for virology, and for science in general. The decision by the NSABB sets a precedent f... Read More

Frank Fenner, MD, 1914-2010

Australian virologist Frank Fenner, MD was born in Ballarat, Victoria in 1914. He earned a Doctor of Medicine in 1942 at the University of Adelaide, and from 1940 – 1946 he worked on the malaria parasite in Egypt and Papua New Guinea as an officer in the Australian Army Medical Corps. He subsequ... Read More

10 Genes, Furiously Evolving

This is a great article by Carl Zimmer in the NY Times (@carlzimmer on Twitter) about the evolution process of viruses.

"Some viruses use DNA, like we do, to encode their genes. Others, like the influenza virus, use single-strand RNA. But viruses all have one thing in common, said Roland Wolk... Read More

What Happened to Our Friendly Enterococci?

Enterococci had been generally regarded as benign commensals, a part of our healthy intestinal microbiota. They were even invited in, being used as probiotics. But then, in the late 1970s, the first multiple drug-resistant strains appeared, and vancomycin-resistant strains followed in 1981. In r... Read More

Virophage, the virus eater

A second virophage has been identified. The name does not signify a virus that infects another virus – it means virus eater.
Read More

The Human Lake

Science writer Carl Zimmer writes a masterful blog piece tracing the history of the study of ecosystems, from lakes to the human microbiome. Just one interesting fact: In their lifetimes, individual humans will produce about five elephants worth of microbes. Read More

Microbial Movers - A Small Things Considered Post

Elio Schaechter of Small Things Considered has authored an interesting post today about the motility of bacteria, specifically Paenibacillus, although he does highlight several other strains that swarm, glide or twitch.

"Microbes get around. They can be carried by the wind, by insects, or by ... Read More

TWiV 139 Letters

Norma writes:


Some time ago I emailed you about transcribing an episode of TWiV and have finally finished episode 60. Let me join the chorus of appreciative listeners in praise for your podcast! I've learned a lot from it I was inspired by your generosity... Read More

The Three Faces of Thiomargarita

Merry Youle of Small Things Considered has authored a post that looks at Thiomargarita spp.

"Non-motile Thiomargarita was first discovered in 1999 off the Namibian coast, thus was named T. namibiensis. Its cells are large spheres, arranged in chains, each chain enclosed in a mucous sheath. Av... Read More

TWiV 98 Letters

James writes:


I'm just writing to clarify my question about the production of the flu vaccine if one of the other seasonal strains was removed as there seemed to be a bit of confusion about the point of it.


As I understand it one of the biggest holdups in seas... Read More

XMRV and CFS – It’s not the end

Yesterday the Chicago Tribune published my reaction to the four papers on the retrovirus XMRV published this week in the journal Retrovirology. I was quoted as saying ”These four papers are probably the beginning of the end of XMRV and CFS”. I wish to retract this statement and explain my reason... Read More
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