Links to go viral – 15th February 2015

The tempo of publishing to the site is a little lower than I want at the moment. While I’ll always publish the weekly links, I’ll return to longer writing when stuff ‘behind the scenes’ has calmed down a bit. Now is one of those times, but a more normal service should resume shortly. For this week, I’ve a report, a video and a podcast to feed your audio-visual thirst for virology:

“WHO Ebola Situation Report – 11 February 2015”

News of Ebola’s ‘death’ may have been greatly exaggerated – including by yours truly. For the second consecutive week in a row the number of new cases has risen in all three afflicted countries. We’ll have to pay careful attention to disease trends from here on. Extinguishing the last embers of this outbreak may require even more water than anticipated.

“Viral Supercomputer Simulations – Vincent Racaniello – YouTube”

Ever looked at a 3D reconstruction of a virus particle and found the whole thing boringly static? No me neither, BUT this video demonstrates just how fluid a poliovirus particle in motion may be. The second half of the video looks behind the curtain of such simulations. No wizards here (well, not magic ones anyway…), just massive supercomputer CPU arrays. It’s all really cool (literally and figuratively).

I’ll admit, I generally think of (and refer to) virus capsids as protein shells – but rigid and brittle these particles are not. Perhaps coats is a better metaphor, something protective but allowing for motion.

“TWiV 321: aTRIP and a pause — This Week in Virology with Vincent Racaniello — Overcast”

Speaking of language and its careful use, I only just got around to listening to the linked episode of This Week in Virology, featuring guest Paul Duprex of the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Institute in Boston. The episode focuses upon the debate surrounding so-called “gain of function” experiments. A previous example of such an experiment would be the adaption of influenza to transmit between ferrets, in order to understand the mechanics of virus evolution and transmission in new hosts.

Proponents of such work say it’s necessary to understand and combat the results of phenomena occuring in wild flu infections. Opponents suggest that such work may create new pandemic viruses that would endanger global human health if they were accidentally released. Given the nature of the debate, the rhetoric is being horribly ratcheted up by those against this work.

Whilst sometimes wishing it had a bit more teeth, I appreciate both Paul Duprex’s defence of the work and his calls for the return to reasoned debate, because there’s one to be had. To quote: “if it’s a fight, no one’s gonna win”. I think he’s probably right.

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