This Week in Virology (TWiV) is a podcast – or netcast, as some prefer to call them, since you don’t need an iPod to listen – about viruses. It was begun in September 2008 by Vincent Racaniello and Dicksom Despommier, two science Professors at Columbia University Medical Center. Their goal was to have an informal yet informative conversation about viruses which would be accessible to everyone, no matter what their science background. We wanted to eventually bring other virologists into the conversation, to make it more varied and interesting. Alan Dove, a science writer, joined us late in 2008; Rich Condit, a poxvirologist, joined in 2009, and Kathy Spindler, an adenovirologist, joined in 2012. We’ve had quite a few guests on the show and we’re always trying to get more.
Why are we doing this? Dick, Rich, Kathy and I have spent our entire academic careers directing research laboratories, so we have a lot of knowledge to share. Plus, we both enjoy teaching. Put those two things together, and you have TWiV. If you want to learn about viruses in a relaxing way, then TWiV is for you.
If you have any questions – we love them – send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is some information about the hosts of TWiV. After reading it, consider the following excerpt from a review of TWiV on iTunes, written by Sparkly Twig: “…each virologist has a distinct personality (the snarky guy, the sweet wistful guy, the raconteur, the sincere guy)”. See if you can figure out who’s who.
Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D. (@profvrr) is Professor of Microbiology at Columbia University Medical Center. He has been studying viruses for over 30 years, starting in 1975, when he entered the Ph.D. program in Biomedical Sciences at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine of the City University of New York. His thesis research, in the laboratory of Dr. Peter Palese, was focussed on influenza viruses. In 1979 he joined the laboratory of Dr. David Baltimore at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for postdoctoral work on poliovirus. In 1982 Vincent joined the faculty in the Department of Microbiology at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in New York City. There he established a laboratory to study viruses, and to train other scientists to become virologists. Over the years his laboratory has studied a variety of viruses including poliovirus, echovirus, enterovirus 70, rhinovirus, and hepatitis C virus. As principal investigator of his laboratory, he oversees the research that is carried out by Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows. He also teaches virology to graduate students, as well as medical, dental, and nursing students. If you would like to learn about his work on viruses in more detail, please visit his website at Columbia University.
Vincent entered the world of social media in 2004 with virology blog, followed by This Week in Virology. Videocasts of lectures from his undergraduate virology course are on iTunes University and virology blog. You can find him on Wikipedia, Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook. His goal is to be Earth’s virology professor. In recognition of his contribution to microbiology education, he was awarded the Peter Wildy Prize for Microbiology Education by the Society for General Microbiology. His Wildy Lecture provides an overview of how he uses social media for science communication.
Dickson D. Despommier, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences and Microbiology at Columbia University Medical Center. He is a microbiologist/ecologist by training, and for 27 years conducted laboratory-based research on molecular aspects of intracellular parasitism. Dick also teaches Parasitic Diseases, Medical Ecology, and Ecology 101. These courses deal with parasitism and its effects on large segments of the poor that live in the tropics. Controlling soil-based transmission cycles of helminthes that cause significant health problems throughout the world is of prime importance to Dick. Since it is generally agreed agriculture is solely responsible for so much environmental disturbance and serves as the interface for the transmission of geohelminths, one area of his focus has been on how to raise food without further encroachment into natural ecosystems. He established The Vertical Farm as a theoretical construct to look at the possibility of agricultural sustainability within cities. Sustainable urban life is now a major interest of Dick’s. Inventing new approaches to the raising of food within the confines of a large urban center is bound to be fraught with hidden pitfalls and caveats when starting out, particularly those of a technical and economic nature. However, he firmly believes that with enough input from multiple disciplines (e.g., industrial and soil microbiology, engineering, public health, policy making, urban planning, architecture, agronomy, plant genetics, economics), vertical farming could become a reality and thus replace most of what now passes for agriculture in many parts of the developed and under-developed world. If this were to come about, large tracts of land could then be returned to nature to do what it was supposed to do for us before we eliminated the hardwood forests of the eastern states. Restoring ecosystem services and functions is what Dick envisions as the charge to the next generation of public health professionals.
Alan Dove, Ph.D. grew up near the small waterfront city of Annapolis, Maryland, and spent an inordinate amount of his childhood on and around boats. Fortunately, he also developed interests that offered genuine employment opportunities, including biology, chemistry, public policy, writing, computers, and electronics. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Towson State University in Baltimore County, he pursued – and with considerable effort, got – a Ph.D. in microbiology from Columbia University in New York City.
In 1997, Alan left laboratory research to become a science journalist, a job better suited to his short attention span and wide-ranging interests. His work appears in numerous publications, including the Webby-winning New York Academy of Sciences site, several of the Nature journals, and trade publications such as Drug Discovery and Development and Bioscience Technology. He blogs at alandove.
Rich Condit, Ph.D. began his scientific career at the age of six when he had the good fortune to move to a property in Marin County, California that had a creek running through the back yard. There he conducted an informal and largely unconscious multiyear study of the life cycle of the frog, until high school interrupted his investigations with more worldly pursuits. Rich found his passion for laboratory science as an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, studying the genetics of antibiotic resistance in bacteria in the laboratory of Cedric Davern and ribosome structure in the laboratory of Harry Noller. Rich began studying viruses as a graduate student at Yale University, where he conducted research on gene regulation during bacteriophage T7 infection in the laboratory of Joan Steitz, receiving a Ph.D. in 1975. As a postdoc at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, in London, England from 1975-1977 under the mentorship of Robert Kamen, Rich studied transcriptional regulation of gene expression during infection by mouse polyoma virus, a DNA tumor virus. From 1977-1978 Rich undertook a second postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratories of Joseph Kates and William Bauer in the Microbiology Department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he initiated his studies on the poxvirus vaccinia. Rich was an Assistant and Associate Professor of Biochemistry at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1978 until 1990, when he moved to the University of Florida as a Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. Since 1977, Rich has used a genetic approach to study transcriptional regulation of viral gene expression and, more recently, virus assembly using vaccinia as a model system. Rich runs a relatively small research laboratory and still conducts his own experiments whenever possible. In both the laboratory and in the classroom, Rich teaches virology to graduate students, medical students and undergraduate students. Rich plans to remain at the University of Florida for the remainder of his formal career when he can once again turn his curiosity to less formal pursuits. There’s a creek in his back yard…
Rich first appeared on TWiV as a guest on episode #26, Poxviruses, in March of 2009 and after several return visits became a regular participant in February of 2010. Rich feels strongly that science is for everyone and that an understanding of the scientific basis of our existence and an appreciation for the methods used to gain that understanding is critically important for the future of the globe. Rich is grateful that TWiV provides an opportunity to communicate this passion to a broad audience of listeners.
Kathy Spindler, Ph.D. is Professor of Microbiology and Immunology in the medical school at the University of Michigan. She came by her interest in science genetically: her parents were both chemists. Kathy had two inspiring science teachers in junior high school, and she always knew she wanted to major in biology, which she did at Purdue University. She moved to UC San Diego for her doctoral work, and she began working on viruses in her first rotation, with Dr. Masaki Hayashi. She joined that lab for the first part of her dissertation research, working on the single-stranded DNA bacteriophage FX174. Kathy completed her Ph.D. in the laboratory of Dr. John Holland, working on “Evolution of viral RNA genomes in acute and persistent infections,” using vesicular stomatitis virus. In 1981 she began her postdoc with Dr. Arnie Berk at UCLA, focused on the human adenovirus proteins encoded by E1A. Kathy moved to a faculty position at the University of Georgia (UGA) Department of Genetics in 1985, where she established studies of mouse adenovirus type 1 (MAV-1). This virus has molecular genetics with similarities to human adenoviruses, and yet it can be studied in its natural host, using the powerful genetic and immunological tools of the mouse model. At the end of 2001 Kathy moved to the University of Michigan, where her research into viral pathogenesis and host susceptibility to infection has expanded. She continues to teach undergraduates and graduate students, and she is currently the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee in Microbiology and Immunology.
Kathy started her science outreach as a pen pal on science projects with elementary school children. She developed a summer genetics research program for visiting college students at UGA (SUNFIG). She currently is a member of the University of Michigan’s ADVANCE advisory board. ADVANCE began as an “NSF-funded project promoting institutional transformation with respect to women faculty in science and engineering fields,” and at Michigan it now has an expanded mission to promote diversity among faculty in all fields. Kathy served for five years on ADVANCE’s STRIDE committee, participating in workshops both at Michigan and around the country discussing practices to maximize the likelihood that diverse candidates will be identified, recruited, and promoted in the academy.
Kathy first appeared as a guest on TWiV on episode #158 in November 2011, “Wolverines go viral,” although earlier she had sent comments, suggestions of guests (especially women!), pick of the week suggestions to Rich, and even a photo that was used for an episode (#127, cold chain). After several return visits to TWiV, in August 2012 Kathy was invited to be a regular participant. She recommends TWiV to relatives, friends, and strangers as an easy way to hook them on virology; her modest (!) mission is to propagate knowledge of science to everyone. Kathy is happy to participate directly in spreading this knowledge virally through TWiV.
Digital finger painting and drawings of TWiV hosts Vincent, Dickson, Alan, and Rich courtesy of listener Jon. Sketch of Kathy by Joel Swanson.