This year in virology

29 December 2011

XMRVFor some time I have thought about reviewing this year’s topics on virology blog in 2001, not only to get a sense of what I thought was significant, but more importantly, to highlight areas that need more coverage. I went through all the articles I wrote in 2011, put them in subject categories, and listed them by number of articles. The results are both obvious and surprising.

I wrote most frequently about the retrovirus XMRV and its possible role in chronic fatigue syndrome and prostate cancer. This extensive coverage was warranted because we had an opportunity to learn how disease etiology is established, followed by development of therapeutics. By the end of the year we learned that XMRV does not cause human disease, but the journey to that point was highly instructive.

The next most frequently visited topic on virology blog was influenza. Writing often about this virus makes sense because it is a common human infection that occurs every year, and controlling it is a continuing goal of virology research.

There were five  posts noting the death of virologists, colleagues, or someone I thought made a substantial impact on my career.

I wrote more about poliovirus than any other virus except XMRV and influenza. Eradication of poliomyelitis continues to be difficult and faces periodic setbacks.

I only wrote three articles about topics in basic virology.

Like many others, I find the biggest viruses and their virophages compelling.

The past year saw the release of Contagion, a movie about a virus outbreak. Look for an analysis on TWiV in 2012.

The state of science education and science funding is becoming more of a concern. It is not a topic I write about often – I prefer to focus on the science of virology – but for future scientists it is extremely important.

The other posts covered a variety of topics and viruses, including HIV, human papilloma viruses, hepatitis C virus, and smallpox virus.

What have I learned from looking back? The best covered viruses – XMRV, influenza, and poliovirus – deserve the attention. I am surprised that there were so few articles on important viruses such as HIV, HCV, rotaviruses, and herpesviruses. That shortcoming will have to change. I did not write enough about basic virology. One could argue that teaching a virology course is enough – but I think that concise, informative articles on basic virology are very useful. I’ll try to do more of that in 2012. There is one topic I’d like to write less about, but over which I have little control – the passing of scientists.

Thank you for coming here to learn about virology.

  • Dene

    Dr Racaniello

    As we know that Mikovits Ruscetti Lo and Alter only ever provided evidence of polytropic MRVs (PMRVs) and no other papers ever optimised an assay to detect those viruses, only using VP62 which is synthetic representation of XMRV, but is not a strain ever found in nature.  Then do you not think it is time for researchers to start looking for those viruses instead of continuing the wild goose chase for VP62?  We can’t really have this investigation stopped after two positive papers based upon one multi lab study that is also as any other study prone to errors in study design.  The blood working group paper highlighted how easily this can occur, through the inclusion of people as controls who could never have been declared negative.

  • Jack

    I think it is 2011 and not 2001 Professor ;)

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  • Tess

    Thank you Dr. Racaniello for all you do to help us learn and understand Virology! It’s been an interesting year! I would definitely like to hear more of what is going on with HIV in 2012! Keep up the good work! Happy New year!

  • Poodle Stomper

    The Blood Group study actually showed that Mikovits and pals were incapable of reproducing their own results.  Not only did they fail to identify the same samples as “positive”, they could not get consistent results within their own labs between the triplicate iterations of the samples they found to be “positive”.  In other words, their assays were crap and so were their results.  If you’re going to try the “VP62″ meme, at least know the details about the rest of the study.  Lo and Mikovits’ groups were allowed to use whatever assays they felt were the best for that study.  Their assays were not reproducible.  Their results are, at best, completely unreliable.

  • Edkarr

    Your podcast is very refreshing and educational for me being overseas and working within a quite small and isolated virology group. Thanks Prof. Racaniello. All the best for 2012!