Viruses

mailboxTWiM regularly receives listener email with corrections, comments, suggestions for show topics, requests for clarification, and additional information. A selection of these is archived on this page.

TWiM 17 Letters

Marko writes:

thanks a lot for this great podcast. I'm already listening to podcasts several hours a day and until now the science-component was missing a bit. However, now with Twim, Twip and Twiv in my feed I think I have to go for an extra walk with my dog every day.

I'm a german student of master geosciences and environment and wrote my bachelor thesis about the influence of microbicides to microorganisms in a local wastewater treatment plant. Maybe wastewater treatment could be an interesing topic for a twim episode, as far as I know there is still little known about the consortia in activated sludge.

I enjoy listening to you guys so much, keep up the great.

all the best from Greifswald,

Marko

Merry Youle writes:

I've been listening to the evolution of TWIM, week by week, and want to say that I am delighted by the direction it has gone. I listened to #11 yesterday and found the format especially informative and interesting. By format, I am referring to the selection of, in this case, two papers, both of which were introduced well Buy Viagra to orient the listener to the context and the topic. In each case there followed a real discussion among the co-hosts that was accessible to listeners with varied backgrounds. Acronyms and specialized terms were defined, or replaced by more common words.

As if that weren't enough, the viewpoints presented this week were particularly relevant and important vis a vis our microbiota, allergies, antibiotic usage, agricultural practices, and such. This information needs to be widely disseminated, and TWIM make an excellent contribution to that process.

Carry on!

All the best,
Merry

Varun writes:

All the hosts,

Am a microbiologist from India, and find your podcast very interesting. The very education and the fun you bring is awesome. I have a suggestion. Am wondering why wouldn't you start doing a "This week in mycology". I would also like to acknowledge that I and my students at times, sit together to listen to the podcast, and put our own ideas and open discussions in class. So the microbiology is more fun now, than it was before. Once again thank you for great work. Good luck for your future episodes.

TWiM 15 Letters

Martyn writes:

Dear Vincent and gang,

A couple of times you've mentioned pro-biotic bacteria foods.  As an ignorant layman, I wonder if you know of any evidence that these work?  If someone's intestine has been cleared by anti-biotics, do these foods successfully deliver the right species to a pioneer territory where they will thrive and breed and establish a new eco-system?

Your podcasts are a gift.  Thank you for them.  I'd recommend TWIP to anyone trying to diet.

Yours

Martyn, Leeds

Denina writes:

Hi all,

in Twim #12 a nurse practitioner posted an interesting question about the human skin microbiome which received a trivia comment from Michael Schmidt, I believe. He mentioned that humans drop 2 million skin cells per hour. This is really amazing trivia information and I would like to read more about it and learn about the background of the study which estimated this number. Would you be able to provide a title and author for this research, so I could look it up?

Thanks!
Denina

Denina
Yale University

Jim writes:

TWIM 13 was outstanding; listened to it two times; saved it in my Best Podcasts folder
Is there not some way to harness the public as is being done in astronomy, genomics, proteomics and some music projects? Millions of us use all sorts of supplements and while it's a sloppy process, if folks with the technical expertise can tell us intelligent lab rats what to do and how to evaluate what we use, or what to send in (ten million fecal samples comes to mind!), it might be Generic Viagra an inexpensive post-doc project that some outfit like the American Dairy Association, or American Dairy Goat Association, would help fund.  Despite my lay status, old age and lack of equipment it occurs to me that I am a large bioprocessing complex with multiple sensors, access to a wide variety of reagents and variable environmental conditions, and a computer connected to the internet.  I'm not ready to shell out $500 to sequence my genome, but have no problem with $10 worth of drugstore items.  Or, what if a million of us kicked in $10 each to fund such a project!  If not now, perhaps shortly a microarray or cellphone attachment will make such a project more feasible.  People have always been a biological resource, but equipment and boundaries are shifting so that great new ways of using all this should be occurring.  Somebody somewhere must be starting the bio-equivalent of Radioshack!  Perhaps you know of projects like this and if so, I would like to hear about them.  Thanks.

Keeping all that in mind I submit to you a link to a guy who made his own microscope incubator, with pictures, at : http://cheapassscience.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/the-diy-microscope-incubator-is-complete/ And that link has links to similar projects in the DIY area.

Your topics, your collaborator backgrounds and expertise, your collaboration in the process are amazing to hear, incredibly instructive and powerful.  Just because the Fox Network and Rush Limbaugh haven't recognized you is such a blessing, too, but I do hope you continue anyway!  I'm some sort of geek cause I live for this stuff.

Regards,

Jim
Smithfield, VA

TWiM 14 Letters

Michael writes:
(in response to question on TWiM #9 - specimens for undergrad lab)

I am a student that is just starting the 2 year professional phase of my Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) degree. And from all I know, when possible, many of the samples that the program uses are actually from 2 major local hospitals. However this is not just any undergrad course, some of the lectures can be taken by students in the Molecular & Microbiology major, but the labs are restricted to only MLS majors.

By the way, I love TWiM! I started listening to TWiV in early 2010, I enjoy it even more that I can listen to you at 2x speed, and therefore I get 2x the info!

One suggestion for a future topic: it would be great for you all to discuss how the advances in technology will be able to change the time and types of medical testing. (such as PCR, flow cytometry, and maybe even microarrays, to name a few)

Thank you again!
~Michael

John writes:

Dear TWIMers,

I loved the pick of the week of the Life at Low Reynolds Numbers.  I originally read this a few years back, and it was recommended alongside a couple other papers that I thought would make good listener picks of the week.  Both papers are about scaling in biology, and why (for example) ants can't grow to be as big as a dog.

First, "On Being the Right Size" by Haldane:  http://irl.cs.ucla.edu/papers/right-size.html

Second, "The Biology of B Movie Monsters," by Michael LaBarbera: http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/2/21701757/

Thanks again for your wonderful podcasts!

--John

Rufus writes:

The aside regarding what it would be like to swim in corn syrup is actually a rather old question (Huygens).  Drag certainly goes up with viscosity, but viscous drag may not be the speed limiting factor for human swimmers  in water and propulsion efficiency may go up with viscosity over some range (say ethanol to water to pudding).

A chemical engineer decided to test it for humans in a liquid with double the viscosity of water using one of those small old four lane swimming pools:.  With double the viscosity, swimmers could maintain the same times!   http://blog.everydayscientist.com/?p=129.  http://it.umn.edu/news/inventing/2004_Winter/goingforthegoo.html.  Note in another secondary reference to the paper, though they could maintain the same speed,  athletes reported more fatigue from the viscous swims.

REFERENCE: "Will Humans Swim Faster or Slower in Syrup?" American Institute of Chemical Engineers Journal, Brian Gettelfinger and E. L. Cussler, vol. 50, no. 11, October 2004, pp. 2646-7.

I suppose our intuitions are even more suspect when looking at navigation and propulsion at the micro and nano scales.

Rufus
SW Engineer

Portland, OR

Dave writes:

I found the discussion of the two papers in TWiM #11 fascinating because you addressed the incredible complexity of biological systems and the immense difficulty of testing hypotheses of a simple cause and effect nature.  As a person with 50 years of experience in mathematical modeling and statistics, I have a great appreciation of just how difficult it must be to design valid experiments and models to test almost any biological hypothesis.

However, your discussion of entropy in response to a letter from one of your listeners seemed to wander off in strange directions.  I think the problem started with the letter writer misstating a key component of the second (not third as stated in the letter) law of thermodynamics.  Entropy or disorder increases "in a closed system", not in "any system" as the letter writer stated.  The biological examples he named that appear to counter this law were open systems.  These biological entities are obviously exchanging energy and matter with the greater universe.  This is what drives self-assembly and other apparent violations of the second law of thermodynamics.  I'm sure that any closed biological system that one could create would obviously "run downhill" from an entropy standpoint.

Thanks to you and your other panel members for the great podcasts.  Listening to TWiM, TWiV and TWiP is a highpoint of my week.

Dave

TWiM 13 Letters

Robin writes:

As a retired diagnostic radiologist, I have recently discovered twiv, twip, & twim, I greatly enjoy your discussions.

Don’t know how many students and graduate students who listen are aware of Layhe Bread, but all should be. The bread is better tasting than any bakery bread, incredible easy to make, doesn’t require a bread machine, and costs less than $0.50 a loaf. Because the dough doesn’t require kneading, my super-duper Zojirushi bread machine sits unused.

For most breads, the most expensive ingredient is the yeast, but Layhe Bread requires only a half teaspoon of yeast per loaf. The only other ingredients are 4 cups of flour, 2 cups of water, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Nothing else!

Believe it or not, the secret to making perfect loaves of bread every time is neglect and patience. Unlike other bread recipes, anaerobic bacteria begin working on the dough, imparting a slightly sour-dough flavor to the bread. The yeast are activated later. Don’t have clue what specific bacteria are involved. If one were asked to describe Layhe Bread in one sentence a good description would be cave-man bread.

It seems that there are many modifications and further simplifications of the Layhe technique. One of my own simplifications was doing away with wrapping the dough in a towel.

At any rate, Layhe is a baker who has a recipe book on how to make his bread. It would be probably a worthwhile investment for a group of students to go together to buy and to share one of his books.

Warm regards,

Robin

Suzanne writes:

Very interesting podcast! I loved the last one, too. I re-started the last one 5 times when I realized I was being too distracted by kids and life to pay close enough attention. It took me all week to find a quiet enough time to listen but I didn't give up.

When my oldest daughter was a baby and I was reading everything parent related I could find I ran across several articles mentioning that western countries tended to deal more with colic than some other societies. Mostly they tended to come to the conclusion that this was caused by parenting styles. I wondered at the time if there was a connection between colic and our microbe populations. I'd bet that if someone could show that inoculation with H pylori was correlated with a decrease in colic you'd have parents begging for a way to give it to their infants :-)

Thanks for the podcasts!

Suzanne

Raihan writes:

Hey guys, Imma avid listener to TWIV, TWIP and TWIM, and i would suggest a possible collaboration with another podcast i subscribe to: Star Talk Radio.

Its an astrophysics podcast hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson himself. The topics covered in this podcast are vast but they often touch on the topic of life on other planets. They have suggested that if we do find life in the planets nearby, it'll most probably be microbial life.

That's when i thought of you guys! and i thought you guys are the experts on this and could possibly conjure up a magical conversation that will excite and stimulate biologists and astrophysicists alike. I know the tag line of your show is "the podcast that explores unseen life on EARTH' but i'm sure your listeners wouldn't mind an intergalactic detour.

I'm also gonna write a similar email to Star Talk Radio to tell them of your awesome podcast and lets all hope to benefit from a possible love child between biology and astrophysics.

Just a thought, keep up the amazing work

Raihan

TWiM 12 Letters

Merry writes:

Hi, Vincent,

I've been listening to the evolution of TWIM, week by week, and want to say that I am delighted by the direction it has gone. I listened to #11 yesterday and found the format especially informative and interesting. By format, I am referring to the selection of, in this case, two papers, both of which were introduced well to orient the listener to the context and the topic. In each case there followed a real discussion among the co-hosts that was accessible to listeners with varied backgrounds. Acronyms and specialized terms were defined, or replaced by more common words.

As if that weren't enough, the viewpoints presented this week were particularly relevant and important vis a vis our microbiota, allergies, antibiotic usage, agricultural practices, and such. This information needs to be widely disseminated, and TWIM make an excellent contribution to that process.

Carry on!

All the best,

Merry Youle

Jennie writes:

Hello there Vince and friends!

I'm Jennie - an RN who has very much enjoyed your work (or is this play?) through TWIV, TWIP and now TWIM. Thanks for making fascinating subject matter approachable and fun. I've listened to your programs while traveling & caring for ill & dying family members - your voices helped me use the solidity of science as a kind of ballast during difficult times.

You'll probably pick & choose from this email what to discuss since I know I'm asking too many questions. Enjoy the choice!

Going back to TWIM # 5 - perturbation of Arctic soil using nanoparticles (gives me the willies) - one of your guests mentioned a thought - spraying human skin with nanoparticles to stop MRSA - yikes - another shiver of concern.

BUT WAIT! Way before I had a foundation for pro and pre biotics I quietly theorized that skin infections were an imbalance in the living systems that are usually on our skin - or that imbalancing the microbes there may be a prerequisite to skin infection. Also, I understand that when some pathogens invade the gut, one of the first tasks is to launch an attack on the commensal microbes that hold territory there.

Back to the skin & nasal mucosa. I understand now that the Human Microbiome project has identified many, many bacterial species on the skin that live in a complex interdependence on us. I believe a current CA-MRSA therapy is judicious use of antimicrobials & topical intranasal mupirocin - and that limiting use of mupirocin to avoid drug resistance is a concern for this treatment as it is for all antibiotic therapy.

So, let me make my case for this idea I have for a study - and perhaps personalized medicine. Attempted transplant of a cocktail of known NON-resistant commensal skin organisms to the skin (and nasal mucosa?) of person with CA-MRSA - perhaps after a reduction in bacterial numbers using a method that does not linger - so that the reduction method wouldn't interfere with the colonization of the new commensals. Perhaps drying? Perhaps phage?

Of course, not being a microbiologist, I don't understand the niche selection pressures for microbes, nor do I get why some colonize & why some are transient.

Related questions - I understand that, in some cases, simply by going for a while without anti-infectives, some people clear MRSA because of the lack of selective pressure for resistance - but that its not at all a sure thing - wonder what the odds are on that clearance - and what the factors are? Wonder how important it is that we have resistant microbes in our gut - is this a super complicated world of many kinds of plasmids - & are those plasmids in communication with our skin & nasal mucosa organisms?

Related questions on Triclosan & surfaces: do you think that Triclosan use in households selects for resistant microbes? What can you tell us about what you know on Triclosan in our homes & environment? I also wonder about the surfaces that we touch now - so many modern plastic or plastic coated surfaces instead of metal, wood & cotton. I was very much interested in your discussion on copper surfaces and know that wooden cutting boards are better antimicrobial surfaces than plastic after wash & dry.

And I leave you with a crazy idea. Of course I teach people to wash hands just before leaving work. How about washing, carefully drying - then recolonizing them with complex normal flora on their way out the door every shift - kind of like a handshake...? I can imagine one problem with this crazy idea might be - the complexity of microbes can't live off the human body long enough. I suppose there is nothing like a human handshake to transplant human commensals.

Alternatively - after washing & drying - apply a solution that selects NOT so much AGAINST MRSA etc. but provides conditions that FAVOR commensals - kind of like a pre-biotic for the skin. We would want to know what conditions make it a little shaky for pathogens while providing the best chance for beneficial commensal recolonization. Then, that recolonization might happen next time you touch another person - like your child when you come home...

Thanks for listening to my silly questions!

Warmest regards

Jennie

TWiM 11 Letters

Steve writes:

As a microbiologist I enjoy listening to your broadcasts.  However, I was very disappointed on the one about Salomonella in cantaloupe and E. coli O157:H7 in Lebanon bologna.  Many incorrect statements were made, such as "Salmonella enteritidis is the species", The species is Salmonella enterica.  Also, it is not necessary for Salmonella to grow in a food to cause illness as was stated by one of the guests.  Many foods that do not allow the growth of Salmonella (peanut butter, dry cereal, etc.) have caused outbreaks of salmonellosis.  FDA does not regulate plants that make bologna - all such meat plants are regulated by USDA.  Also, it was obvious that the guests knew very little about how fermented meats are manufactured and what factors are involved in destruction of E. coli O157:H7.  It actually is a combination of pH, heat and time, not just pH as was mentioned.

The basic problem with this program was that none of your guests was a food microbiologist, so most of the conversation involved a lot of guessing. In the future I strongly recommend that you include guests that have expertise in the area of microbiology the program is addressing, so that they know what they are talking about!

Looking forward to more high quality TWIM programs!

Jim writes:

This is neat in that a flatbed scanner is used repeatedly to generate time-lapse results that help in the identification of color changes. And, perhaps another example of simple technology that can be applied with less training.

Jim Smithfield, VA

Get a whiff of this: Low-cost sensor can diagnose bacterial infectionsvia ScienceDaily: Latest Science News on 4/27/11

Bacterial infections really stink. And that could be the key to a fast diagnosis. Researchers have demonstrated a quick, simple method to identify infectious bacteria by smell using a low-cost array of printed pigments as a chemical sensor. In only a few hours, the array not only confirms the presence of bacteria, but identifies a specific species and strain. It even can recognize antibiotic resistance -- a key factor in treatment decisions.

Kendall writes:

Dear TWiM,

First of all I'd like to say that i really enjoy your podcast, its both informative and easy to listen to. I listen to it when i go on my long runs and it makes them go by so much faster! However, on one of these long runs I happened to see an oil sheen in the river next to the trail, and it got me thinking about oil degrading bacteria. I don't know much about them but I would really like to learn more and if possible I would love to see a TWiM about oil degrading bacteria.   You could even tie it in with the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and talk about the impact the bacteria may or may not have made in the cleanup efforts.

Sincerely, Kendall an undergrad bio major

Joe writes:

Enjoyed the last TWIM and thought of a great marketing idea for you all. Two nesting buckets with the TWIM logo on one side and "OOOHHH I should have listened to TWIM" on the other side.

May all your bugs be good ones!

Joe EH&S Manager

Joe writes:

Michael,

As a chemical engineer who has learned more than his share of physical chemistry over the years, I really enjoy your facility with the electro chemical aspects of biological systems. I am hoping you can provide some insight into something that has always seemed to be a paradox to me. (Note: the guys on TWIV seem to be somewhat mathphobic, so you are my last hope...!)

The third law of thermodynamics regards the property of Entropy and basically states that the amount of disorder in any system must always increase. This makes sense to me as an engineer in that there is always lost work or waste energy (heat, friction, chemical wastes, etc) generated. While living things obviously obey the third law, it has always amazed me that life processes seem to be about creating order out of disorder in incredibly complex ways. The more I listen to the TWIV, TWIP, TWIM podcasts the more striking it becomes.

Viral proteins that self assemble!

DNA and RNA that form machines to make more DNA and RNA!

Flagella motors!

Folding proteins!

Viruses that infect caterpillars and make a smell that attracts wasps to get a flight to a new host!

Ion selective membranes to send signals in cells

Evolution

This is the stuff that makes science fun! I can appreciate that living systems consume high quality energy sources to create their ordered systems but the whole thing seems so counter to the idea of entropy that I feel like I am missing something.

So my question is do you have any insights into entropy and biological systems that will illuminate my understand and answer the age old question of "What up with that!? Thanks as always for all the great science.

Joe, EH&S Manager

TWiM 10 Letters

Mia writes:

Hello to Vince and all you other wise humanitarian folks bringing us TWIM and TWIV! I am a 47 year old indiviual diagnosed with GAD and OCD. Germaphobia used to be my most prevalent and crippling symptom of these disorders until my family doctor found the right drug combo ( cymbalta/xanax) to virtually erase my symptoms, However, I began listing to TWIV to educate myself in hope of conquering my fear of "germs" with knowledge in case I ever develop a tolerance to the medications I am taking. I just wanted all you good people to know what a service you provide to people from ALL perspectives and thank you for changing my attitude toward viruses into one of deep interest and couriosity and very little worry. I look forward to understanding other microbes in the same positive light as I listen to and enjoy TWIM.

I have one request/idea for a topic. One microbe that nearly drove me over the edge befoe I had adequate treatment was a long recurring bout of C-Diff Colitis,  after a strong treatment of augmentum. I read awful scary internet websites devoted to this deadly hospital plague but my kindly physicians asked me not to pay any attention to those sites and that they did not pertain to my infection. After 4 'scripts of flagyl failed I was sent to a specialist who placed me on 14 days of Alinia (nitazoxanide) and 20 days of questran powder (cholestyramine) after that -and was cured! Why do we have such "bad" bugs in our gut, how do we get them and re: TWIM #2 have not fecal enemas been used in the past to fight C-Diff as well ? ANY info you could provide on this- my last boogie-man -microbe in a future TWIM would do a geat kindness to a non-scientist  like myself. Thank you Sooooooooooo much for your huge contribution to public awareness and sanity! Mia (0:

Lance writes:

Hi Vincent, You did something similar to this in TWiM 2 I think - but I thought this looked interesting form yesyterday's Nature:

NATURE | Enterotypes of the human gut microbiome Nature (2011) doi:10.1038/nature09944 http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v473/n7346/full/nature09944.html

I really enjoy all your podcasts keep up the good work! I've been meaning to email about all sorts of things for ages but somehow haven't got round to it - anyway maybe more later!

Thanks,

Lance

Adrian writes:

Greetings TWiM hosts!

I am a HUGE fan of TWi{V,P,M} -- I listen to a lot of podcasts, but these always make it to the top.  I was a Chem major but now find myself with a career in software.  On the side, I brew beer.  I think the beer making process would be a great topic for a TWiM some day but my question is specific: are there known pathogens that can survive the beer making process?  If improperly stored, beer can certainly spoil -- but are any of the microbes involved dangerous to humans? Beer making lore seems to say no -- siting the theory that beer consumption started out as a means to consume "safe" liquids.  Is this true?

Again, I love all of the shows... keep up the stellar work.

//adrian

Menlo Park, CA

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