TWiV 105: Finches score again

October 31, 2010

Hosts: Vincent Racaniello, Dickson Despommier, Alan Dove, and Rich Condit

Vincent, Dickson, Alan, and Rich review eradication of rinderpest, endogenous hepatitis B virus in the zebra finch genome, and identification of the cell receptor for an extinct retrovirus.

Click the arrow above to play, or right-click to download TWiV #105 (66 MB .mp3, 92 minutes)

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Links for this episode:

Weekly Science Picks

Dickson – Winged Migration
Alan – Web-accessible shortwave receivers
Rich – Personal Genome Project
Vincent –
XVIVO scientific animation

Send your virology questions and comments (email or mp3 file) to or leave voicemail at Skype: twivpodcast. You can also post articles that you would like us to discuss at and tag them with twiv.

  • Anonymous

    I might have a potential Pick of the Week for one of your guys. But I don’t recall if it has ever been picked before. The mention of the Personal Genome Project reminded me of this thing I found a while ago called 23andMe. Basically they send you a package containing a “spit tube”, which is a tube into which you spit (who’d of thunk it? haha), and you mail the package back to the company. They then screen your DNA for a whole host of genetic traits and carrier host markers (there are a total of 174 screens that they do), including: BRCA cancer mutations, Tay Sach’s, prostate cancer risk, resistance to HIV (they provide a warning that even if you are confirmed to have two copies of Delta32 version of CCR5 you are still susceptible to certain strains of HIV, and protection is not complete), etc. Of course, a lot of these genetic associations aren’t set in stone, like the screen for predisposition to back pain (which is kind of silly), and memory, longevity, and food preference (which are equally silly), so they can’t truly predict whether you have these phenotypic traits, or that you’ll get these various diseases and conditions later in life. But I think that the concept that you can be screened for all these things, some of which seem quite credible, is really neat. I don’t know that I’d necessarily do it myself, though, since it’s $430 a pop, but hey, if you’ve got the money…
    Here is the main website:

    and here’s the list of things they screen for:

  • Erin L

    I like the watch analogy submitted by another listener, though I see it being a closer match for prion disease than viral infection. (fwiw, I fall in the viruses are alive camp…)

  • gob

    This show is a part of the media you spent some time discussing.

    Mikovits has never said XMRV causes Autism. The WPI and NCI have conducted research into this area, but they conclude that, “XMRV is observed in children with a wide spectrum of neuroimmune disorders and their family members. The significance of these findings is not clear.” It is disturbing that panel members of this show would claim such things without providing a source.

    As for CFS, well Mikovits/WPI have never portrayed this research as being a forgone conclusion. They have always equally suggested several explanations for the results. It is other media outlets that have done that.

    Finally, Bill Reeves at the CDC, before any other studies were published, tried to say that the research wouldn’t be replicated. But this remark was not criticised by the media, such as yourselves.

    ME patients only want rigourous research, they are looking for actual treatments and a cure. Most are extremely intelligent and perfectly able to comprehend where we are on this research. The media is a different beast, and very easy to see through. So can we stop pretending that anyone needs protecting, and please ask for this research to be undertaken to the highest standards. Slap dash isn’t good enough.

  • profvrr

    I would disagree that TWiV is part of traditional media. It is a
    unique entity in that it comprises virologists talking about science.
    We don’t pick stories that are sensational and of interest to large
    numbers of people; contrary to the traditional press, we report on
    basic science. We make no money on TWiV and only have one goal: to
    teach the public about virology. That our listeners number in the
    thousands rather than hundreds of thousands or millions shows that we
    are serious education, not entertainment. As for the association of
    XMRV and CFS: I agree that in the scientific literature the WPI group
    have been careful to acknowledge that their findings do not indicate a
    causative relationship. But they send a very different message on the
    internet and at non-scientific meetings. This does not help anyone,
    nor does announcing in such venues that XMRV has been identified in
    children with autism. That is all that we commented on; when we have
    peer-reviewed science we’ll discuss it further. The research you
    request is being done.

  • gob

    TWiV is still a section of the media, even if it is in the non-profit, scientific section, it cannot escape that.

    I would disagree about the message sent out on the internet and in meetings by the WPI. I have read and attended these, it matches that in the scientific literature, if not with more discussion. What is different is the acknowledgement from both themselves and patients that Health officials and Governments have abandoned ME/CFS patients, by refusing to fund biomedical research, and letting psychiatrist proscribe dangerous treatments based on their uneducated beliefs that there is no underlying biomedical abnormalities to be found. Which in turn has been assisted by the CDC, or NICE in the UK, through the banning of those test which demonstrate these biomarkers. Can you see why patients have no faith in the system. It doesn’t work. Therefore, until this research is published and scrutinised I wont believe the hype that is being undertaken. We have been in this situation before. As for XMRV and Autism, that information was at the International XMRV conference, along with several other unpublished studies. The world has seen the results of them too, along with those presented at the 11th Symposium on Antiviral Drug Resistance. Take Dr Huber, she has presented early research on her studies into CFS and HERV-K18, the whole community knows what she is meant to be finding. But you don’t take her to task for that, or perhaps she isn’t in the media spotlight at the moment. You don’t complain that she has reported to the world that she has contaminated her lab samples, for her research into XMRV and CFS, probably because her results are seen as being more acceptable, not controversial. Still, her work is not published. Honestly, I think if the scientific community wanted to keep things a secret before publication they wouldn’t put slides or abstracts on the internet. But that is what the organisers of these big meetings are doing.

  • gob

    John Coffin has announced in a public forum that he has two negative XMRV CFS studies coming out. Has he gone off the rails?

  • profvrr

    I’ve seen one of the manuscripts. John is a level-headed virologist
    with many years’ experience studying endogenous retroviruses. However,
    to announce such a paper in a forum seems very out of character. Are
    we sure that he posted the message?

  • gob

    It was at the FDA meeting this last week. Every ME patient on the web knows about it, and many of their contacts.

    We know the results of multiple studies that have not been published.

    My main point is that this behaviour is not out of character for any researcher. It’s the norm.

    If you all truly want to keep things a secret, you don’t post or talk about it in a public forum. The world is very small, and information travels rapidly. I think the scientific community should reevaluate it’s approach to this issue. It is either a problem or it is not.

    It is irrelevant what you personally think of Coffin. He is no different then those that some people on your podcast were attacking.

    Thanks for listening though. I don’t wish to upset anyone, but I really feel it is important to highlight this change in attitude, depending on the person involved.

  • Mmorrison

    Dear Twiv guys,

    I am s sometimes listener, and greatly enjoy the show. Overall you seem like great guys, “my kind of people”. However, I take exception to a couple things said on this particular show (105).

    First, I think you can make a case for Dr Mikovits getting a bit overenthusiatic and speculating in public about what WPI’s findings might mean. I’m sure she is not the first scientist to do this. I wonder, hypothetically speaking, if she would have gotten as much flak for her comments if she were reseaching something other than CFS, such as diabetes or celiac disease. I could go on but I am trying to type this on my new iPad and it is slow going with the touchscreen keyboard!

    However, to whichever one of you ventured the opinion that most people with CFS are managing to make it through the workday but are just tired all the time, you are not up to speed on this illness. It is often much more disabling than that. I have been I’ll for moe than 10 years with CFS. I have been unable to hold down a job, even part time (I tried), and three years ago moved across country because I was no longer able to care for myself properly or manage my business affairs without some assistance.

    Do you remember what it felt like the last time you had the flu? When you were starting to recover,but still kind of ached all over a little bit? And you felt well enough that you thought you’d take a shower and get dressed, but when you’d finished that you were worn out and needed to lay down again for awhile? And then picked up a magazine or a book to read, then put it down a few minutes later because you couldn’t concentrate on it? That’s what this illness is for me, nearly every day of the last 10 years. It is more than just feeling tired all the time.

    Two months ago I traveled to Miami to see Dr Nancy Klimas, who is on the leading edge of research and clinical practice for this disease. She believes,and I agree with her, that the problem (or a large part of the problem) is a disfunctional immune system. My blood test results showed a lot of immune activation, esp overactivated antivirals. My inflammatory TNT levels are 3x the upper limit of normal, as are my C-reactive protein levels, which reflect overall inflammation. I am positive for EBV, both past and reactivated, also still “quite positive” for West Nile virus, with antibody, and positive for Lyme. People with CFS also usually run low on blood pressure, as I do, and it has been discovered that patients often have low blood volume, running as low as 80 percent of normal.

    Dr Klimas began her career working with AIDS patients. She is smart and thoughtful, and does not jump to conclusions quickly. I suspect she would tell you that the connection between XMRV and CFS is promising but not yet proven. She would be a great guest for some future episode of TWIV, and that is an interview I would just love to hear!

    Okay, on to my other “quibble”. I am smart, well-educated, experienced (I’m in my 50’s), and I was raised in a scientific mindset. I am proud to be a skeptic, in the spirit of the wonderful James Randi. I am not and never will be someone who advocates non-vaccination of children against diseases. However, on the subject of vaccinations and autism, I’ve come to believe that some of these parents are telling the truth about a vaccination being a trigger for autism in their child. My own son is on the autism spectrum. I don’t think vaccination was an issue for him, but in the course of meeting other parents and reading through the forums, some of the accounts are clear and compelling. I have come around to the opinion that for SOME children, perhaps due to a combination of genetics and/or other
    prior exposures, react adversely to the current type and schedule of childhood vaccinations. I think the scientific community, in categorically denying the experiences of these parents, may be missing an important clue that might lead them in productive research directions.

    Of course, that leads to difficult questions down the line. What if some vaccination, or combination of vaccinations, or schedule of vaccinations, is proven to trigger an immune or autoimmune reaction in some children that manifests as autism? How do you determine which children can be safely vaccinated and which cannot? How can you convince the majority of parents that vaccination is safe for their own child? I this can’t be done, then we run the risk of having children again die from whooping cough (which is already starting to happen), diphtheria, etc, or being crippled from polio. There are still people living in iron lungs from the polio epidemic in the 1950’s. I suspect some in the public health field would rather not look more closely at the question. But if there is a genuine connection between vaccinations and SOME cases of autism, then to ignore the possibility would be to sacrifice the lives of those children who would wind up with autism, in favor of saving the lives of children who would die from diseases prevented by vaccination. I think from both a scientific and moral point of view, the best path is to determine the truth, and then go from there. Even if the result is inconvenient or the research difficult. Practically, though, research which might have inconvenient results from a public health standpoint, or which woul be long and difficult and expensive, is not likely to receive a lot of funding.

    Okay, I’ve rambled enough here. Despite my occasional “quibbles”, I do enjoy your show, and what is science without healthy debate?

    Keep up the good work.

    Marcia Morrison
    in Salem, Massachusetts

  • Mmorrison

    Of course I meant inflammatory TNF, not “TNT”! Please excuse all the typos from this touchpad keyboard…

  • profvrr

    I don’t have a problem with scientists talking about their unpublished
    work. When that is done we all take it with a grain of salt because
    the results haven’t yet been subjected to peer review, and you usually
    don’t see the methods, controls, and raw data to evaluate. But I’ve
    heard from many people who believe that such information constitutes
    additional ‘proof’ that a virus causes a specific disease, and I don’t
    think that is appropriate.