The purpose of this blog is to teach you about viruses and viral disease. This topic is not one that everyone understands, yet nearly everyone would like to. I was most disturbed when the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy G. Thompson, referred to the anthrax bacillus as a virus. That incident crystallized in my mind the need to better educate the public about viruses.

I am your host at virology blog – Vincent Racaniello Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology & Immunology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. Why am I qualified to teach you virology? I have done laboratory research on viruses since 1975, when I entered the Ph.D. program in Biomedical Sciences at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine of the City University of New York. My thesis research, in the laboratory of Dr. Peter Palese, was focussed on influenza viruses. That’s me in the black and white photo below, taken in 1977. Yes, I’ve changed.

Vincent Racaniello 1977

In 1979 I joined the laboratory of Dr. David Baltimore at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I did postdoctoral work on poliovirus. The moratorium on cloning full-length viral genomes had just been lifted, so I proceeded to make a DNA copy of poliovirus RNA, using the enzyme reverse transcriptase. I cloned this DNA into a bacterial plasmid and determined the nucleotide sequence of the poliovirus genome. In an exciting advance, I found that a DNA copy of poliovirus RNA is infectious when introduced into cells. This was the first demonstration of infectivity of a DNA copy of an animal RNA virus, and it permitted previously unthought of genetic manipulation of the viral genome. Today infectious DNA clones are used to study most viruses.

In 1982 I joined the faculty in the Department of Microbiology at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in New York City. There I established a laboratory to study viruses, and to train other scientists to become virologists. Over the years we have studied a variety of viruses including poliovirus, echovirus, enterovirus 70, rhinovirus, and hepatitis C virus. As principal investigator of my laboratory, I oversee the research that is carried out by Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows. I also teach virology to undergraduate students, as well as graduate, medical, dental, and nursing students.

Since I think about viruses every day, and I have always been interested in teaching others about viruses, this blog seemed to be an ideal forum to convey some of my knowledge on this topic.

After starting this blog, I became interested in using ‘new media’ (internet-based media) to disseminate information about viruses. I’ve summarized my use of this format in an article entitled “Social media and microbiology education“, which you can find at the open-access journal PLoS Pathogens. In addition to writing about viruses on virology blog, I also host and produce three podcasts: This Week in Virology, This Week in Parasitism, and This Week in Microbiology. I teach a virology course each spring at Columbia University, and I post videocasts of each lecture at the course website, at iTunes University, and at Coursera.

If you would like to learn about our work on viruses in more detail, please visit my website at Columbia University, or my Wikipedia page. You might also like to follow me on Twitter or Google+, where I often provide links to interesting stories about viruses. I have also written about my work on this site; links to some of these articles are provided below.

Earth’s virology course

Thirty years in my laboratory at Columbia University

Edwin D. Kilbourne, MD, 1920-2011 (his influence on my career)

Thirty years of infectious enthusiasm

Transgenic mice susceptible to poliovirus

Viruses and journalism: Poliovirus, HIV, and sperm

Poliovirus on BBC radio

Viruses and journalism: Off-the-shelf chemicals

Poliovirus is IRESistable


All of the opinions that I write on this blog are mine, and in no way represent the views of my employer, Columbia University. This information is provided for educational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. If you think you are sick, see your doctor. Links to other sites to not constitute endorsements of those sites.

Vincent Racaniello

  • Ottar Stensvold


    I send you here an idea I got within the field of biochemistry / virology.

    To be in charge if a global pandemic should strike, e.g. bird flu or sars,
    there is reason to consider ideas early on.

    Virology: a new approach to HIV-treatment.

    Viruses contain a lot of proteins in their capsids and envelopes:
    N-CR-C-N-CR-C-N-CR-C-N-CR-C … and so on.
    These protein chains are densely packed.

    They can be dissolved by short chain fatty acids, e.g. the four carbon butyric acid:
    This acid is small enough to creep in between the protein chains, it will intermingle and
    get locked between the R-groups in the protein chains.
    The acid will act as a soap molecule, make fractures and fringe, puncture / implode the viruses.
    Beside acting as an amphipathic soap molecule in the protein / fat intersection, the butyric acid and its related molecules could neutralize the viruses.

    The stuff will hit the viruses like arrows and shoot them down – like millions of tiny wedges.

    Butterfat contains a broad range of fatty acids of varying lengths, which are bound up in triglycerides.
    Maybe around 10% is short fatty acids under 12 carbons length.

    When butter is boiled in base (OH-) the fatty acids get released (saponification).

    When I boiled butter in sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3 – natron) and water, I got a cocktail of water-soluble short chain fatty acids. The cocktail showed very promising features in dissolving stacked proteins.

    When drinking this in sufficient amounts, some of the free fatty acids will avoid getting built into chylomicrons in the enterocytes. Thus they will be interspersed in blood and lymph.

    This is just an idea, but it is striking that the only person confirmed cured for HIV worked with butterfat: his job was to make sandwiches (it is a well-known case in media: Andrew Stimpson in London in 2003).

    I hope this can inspire, please feel free to send further.

    Written by:

    Ottar Stensvold

    Reinhold Zieglers veg 14 B
    6414 Molde

    born: February 7th, 1971

    e-mail: ottarstensvold@hotmail.com
    mobile: +47 95 177 433

  • http://www.abhishek-tiwari.com/ Abhishek Tiwari

    I am curious if you can post something related to computational aspect of virology like mathematical modelling and complex systems, I really like this blog very much but I will have one more reason to read it

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    It's a great idea. I will try to include computational aspects of
    virology in the future. I do tend to focus on the biology because
    that's my strength.

  • Laurie Soojian Woo

    I follow a few people on FriendFeed, and happened upon your name in a comment this morning, quite by chance. Your surname was familiar to me, particularly as I had recently described to my husband having taken English with (I presume) your mother at NHRHS in the mid-70s. Looking at your Bio above, I wondered if you were perhaps in my brother's (Michael Soojian) graduating class there? Anyway, I enjoy the “small world” aspect of social networking. Cheers! Laurie Soojian Woo

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    Indeed, my Mother was an English teacher at NHRHS in the 70s, and I
    graduated in the class of 1970. Your brother's name sounds familiar.
    The web has made contacting old acquaintances easy…great to hear
    from you.

  • max fehler

    Die LGT Bank fehler

    von Raivo Pommer

    Der Chef der skandalumwobenen Liechtensteiner LGT-Bank spricht über Fehler seiner Zunft, falsche Regulierung und eine Amnestie für Steuersünder.

    Rheinischer Merkur: Spätestens seit die Affäre Zumwinkel öffentlich ist, glauben die Deutschen, dass die LGT-Bank hilft, Steuern zu hinterziehen …

    Max von und zu Liechtenstein: Das tun wir natürlich nicht. Unser Fokus liegt seit mehr als zehn Jahren auf dem Aufbau lokaler Banken in verschiedenen Märkten. So haben wir viel Geld investiert, um unter anderem in Deutschland eine Bank mit sieben Niederlassungen zu errichten. Hier werden wir von der deutschen Finanzaufsicht reguliert, und für die Kunden gilt das deutsche Steuerrecht

  • http://www.breastpumpdeals.com/ameda-purely-yours-breast-pump.html Purely yours

    I will be more than interested to visit this blog often! thanks.

  • http://acaiberryberries acai berries

    good outlook

  • http://www.nursingagencybook.com How to start a nursing agency

    Your post is very helpful especially to all doctor and nurse professional. I would be very glad to read more about your medical advices which we can learn more about your studies.

  • abbau

    von Raivo Pommer-Eesti-raimo1@hot.ee

    Es ist aber hilfreich, sich die Geschichte der Finanzkrisen anzuschauen. Finanzkrisen gibt es seit mehreren Jahrhunderten, und wenn die aktuelle in ihrem Ausmaß auch ungewöhnlich schwer ist, so unterscheidet sie sich in ihrem Muster wenig von früheren Krisen. Die Lehre aus früheren Krisen lautet aber: Sie finden immer ein Ende, und sie dauern, von wenigen Ausnahmen abgesehen, auch nicht viele Jahre.

    Jede Krise ist eine Bereinigung. In den Jahren des Booms sind Überkapazitäten im Finanzgewerbe entstanden, die nun abgebaut werden. Daraus folgt aber nicht, dass Banken künftig nurmehr Schaltergeschäft betreiben werden. Auch in der Zukunft wird es ein Investmentbanking geben, wenn auch in kleinerer Dimension. Die Überkapazitäten in der Automobilbranche waren seit Jahren bekannt und wurden mit allerlei Verkaufsaktionen kaschiert. Aber auch nach einer schmerzlichen Bereinigung werden weiterhin Autos gebaut und verkauft werden. Der Abbau der Kreditpyramiden – den es auch in früheren Finanzkrisen gegeben hat, wenn auch nicht in diesem Volumen – ist nicht gleichbedeutend mit einem Ende des heutigen Geldsystems.

  • http://myshoesrack.blogspot.com Cool Shoes

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://myshoesrack.blogspot.com C

    Nice post! Thanks for sharing, It’s interesting

    Best Regards!

    Doc doog

  • Kelly

    Have you seen this article? Quite interesting actually.

    Apes, lice and prehistory

    Robin A Weiss
    Division of Infection and Immunity, University College London, 46 Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JF


    Published: 10 February 2009

    © 2009 BioMed Central Ltd

  • bill_mcculley

    WOW! This is by far the most interesting, intelligent blog I have ever com across. The Podcasts are so well done they are as good as anything I can see on NPR or Bill Moyer's specials. I am an electrical engineer, and plan to get my master's degree in biomedical engineering here in Texas. I had intended to go into a track focusing on Medical Imaging (MRI), but the passion I can see in your podcasts regarding the whole spectrum of virology and immunology may convince me otherwise.

    Since I've been in high school, I've been a huge fan of the icons in immunology and virology. Folks like Karl Johnston and the rest of the “disease cowboys” who stopped the epidemics in faraway places. Too bad many of them have passed along. It would be great for you gentlement to interview some of these icons. Don't forget about the old school guys at USAMRIID, not to mention the older days of Welch and Johns Hopkins!

    Keep it up! Your podcast is my favorite time during the week.

    My wife calls my a geek…so be it =) My heroes are mine alone, but I don't care.

    Bill McCulley
    Electrical Engineer
    Lewisville, TX

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    Bill, thanks for your kind comments! As for future guests on TWiV,
    having one of the virus cowboys on is a great idea. We'll get to work
    on it.

  • Jim Vandiver

    On Futures in Biotechnology Dr Palese said a virus the size of your fist is comparable to a cell half the size of the Empire State Building. In this analogy would a bacteria be about the size of a car?

    I'm a layman, but appreciate excellence when I hear it. Thank you for doing such a great job.

    Please consider a program where you speculate on the impact of global warming on virology.

    Oh, lastly, is there any fossil record for viruses?

    Jim in Smithfield, VA

  • http://versusprometeux.blogspot.com/ carlos guevara-casas

    Dear Dr Riacanello
    My name is Carlos Guevara Casas I’m a science teacher in Science College of UNAM at Mexico City. I’m author of a textbook on health for high school and next month (I hope) a new book on history of cardiology with support of Astra Zeneca. I have a samall space in a nation wide newspaper every month and a blog. Nowadays I used it for solve questions and answers about the epidemic flu. Today the topic will be a summary of conspiracy theories but tomorrow I will write about structure of flu virus. For this reason (if you are agree) I want use yours images on genomes structure of flu virus and scheme of virus structure. Of course, with a reference to your blog and your name. Thanks a lot.

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    Sure, no problem. I appreciate your linking back to my blog; not
    everyone does that! I hope the information is useful. I'll continue to
    post information of influenza virus biology in the coming weeks.

  • Jorge

    This is a nice and useful blog! Good idea, hard work. And a curiosity: why the domain name is related (.ws) to Western Samoa?

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    When I bought the domain name four years ago there was a push to get
    away from the .com names, hence sellers were pushing .ws as meaning
    'website'. In case all the other common virology domains (.com, .tv,
    .net, .org) were taken. I have nothing to do with Western Samoa.

  • Jason

    I know there are viruses that infect bacteria, but are there viruses that infect or modify other viruses?

  • Tina

    A mamavirus! The strange critter is a virophage :) They infect miniviruses
    I'm not making these names up as ridiculous as they sound hehe!

  • Tina

    Typo, its miMivirus, not minivirus. Apologies!

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    Technically, since viruses aren't living, they cannot be infected by
    other viruses. However, there is a virus call Sputnik, which only
    replicates in cells infected with mimiviruses. The Sputnik virus can
    only replicate in the replication 'factories' established in cells by
    mimivirus. Sputnik replicate interferes with replication of mimivirus.
    There are also many examples of 'defective' viruses which can only
    replicate in cells infected with other viruses. An example is
    hepatitis delta virus, which is encapsidated only in cells infected
    with hepatitis B virus.

  • Pingback: [Avian Flu Diary] Referral: Virology Blog & TWiV TV | Influenza Virus Mashup()

  • Randall Kazee

    Professor, I love your POD cast and found it from listening to the Futures in Bio-tech POD cast. I came across this interesting article about Programmable matter research being conducted by DARPA in conjunction with teams from Harvard, MIT, and Cornell. I thought you might find the research with programming strands of DNA to of interest.


  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    Loved the article, thanks very much. DNA as 'molecular velcro'.

  • Jasmine

    a very interesting blog. I like it! especially about H1N1 viruses that attack world wide now. it give a clear message that we cannot take for granted and ignore the spread. infected people at Malaysia are now reach more than 200 people. it might be less compare to the other countries but still, we all in risk. wherever I walk and wearing a mask, people will look strange on me (and slowly stay away!). hahah. I'm a master student in Biotechnology, particularly in microbiology. my study is on biochemistry of conserved essential protein in bacteria. Good to know you Professor!

  • Per Rabe

    Is a person with heterozygote aplha-1 antitrypzine deficiency more likely to become very ill if she/he gets the swine flu?/ Per

  • Name

    Dear Vincent,

    I am a student in Chicago, writing a review paper on influenza viruses. I really liked the figure of influenza virus RNA genome displayed on your blog and so would like to use it in my review. This paper would be published in an online journal and wanted to inquire with you if I need to fill any forms before using it. I couldn't find anyother means to contact you and so thought of posting it here only. My email address is pmehta43@gmail.com.

    I shall be looking forward to your reply.


  • Pingback: What is a Virus? | Starve A Fever()

  • akhil_patel

    Hi friends,
    I want some information on Influenza H1N1 virus..
    I'm a B Pharm student and I want this for a seminar arranged in Gujrat,India on 12-13 sep,2009
    My subject for this seminar is “PATHOGENESIS OF INFLUENZA H1N1”
    It will be excellent if you provide me some material regarding this or provide some links for this..
    I've collected some info but I think that's not enough…

    Hoping for your help…
    Akhil Patel

  • pabb

    has anyone in the USA tested for IgG2 deficiency yet….?

  • Jane

    Hi – I am yet another Canadian Mom interested in vaccine information (we must be some kind of rare nerdy breed) relating to H1N1. My daughter has a single kidney after 2 occurrences of cancer. Vaccines make me really uncomfortable because of the aluminum and mercury they can contain. As metals store in the kidneys, and we are very much interested in prolonging the life of her kidney – I worry about additives in vaccines and where they go in the body. We haven't vaccinated yet, but instinctively I feel the affects of a bad virus could be much worse for her kidney than a flu shot. Do you have any opinions on this?

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    This is why it is difficult in clinical trials to test all possible situations – nearly everyone is different. Your instincts are probably correct. You can always get mercury-free vaccine; but mercury is everywhere in the environment and we take it up in greater quantities that are present in one dose of flu vaccine (2.5 micrograms). For example, breast-fed children take up 400 micrograms of mercury by 6 months of age. I'm not aware of any aluminum present in the AS03 adjuvant used in the Canadian vaccine – it contains DL-α-tocopherol, squalene and polysorbate 80. I've seen concerns that the immune boost by AS03 might affect those with cardiopulmonary issues, but no renal issues.

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    Yes, and for this reason anyone with COPD should be immunized.

  • http://albumdeestampillas.blogspot.com/ Pablo (yo)

    Great blog!!
    If you like, come back and visit mine: http://albumdeestampillas.blogspot.com

    Pablo from Argentina

  • Liz

    Hi Dr. Racaniello, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us. Are you familiar with the immune system too? I keep asking myself if psoriasis is not caused by a virus or even a prion because i cannot understand why the immune system would attack certain areas of the skin and not others. Any idea?

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    Immune cells routinely patrol every organ of the body, including the
    skin. In immune diseases such as psoriasis there is a defect which
    makes the immune cells attack host tissues or become activated at the
    wrong times. Why this occurs is not known for psoriasis – there are
    clearly genetic defects but they haven't been identified. Viruses or
    prions are not involved.

  • http://www.hospital.com/ Ryan Flaherty

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. I wanted to list it as a featured blog on my site Hospital.com Im the editor and I wanted to speak to you regarding this. We just want to provide a link for my users to be able to navigate to. Thanks for your time and Happy Holidays

  • http://Physician.com/ James Whitfield

    To Whom It May Concern,

    This is James Whitfield Editor for Physician.com, We are a free medical publication whose sole purpose is to offer a free informational resource to both the consumer and professional public. We are featured on some of the major online medical resources.

    I've found your blog through a few of our mutual online affiliates and would love to work with you as well. I have interest in being included within your blog roll and would love to explore possibilties. Thank you for your time, I look forward to your response.

    James Whitfield
    1 International Blvd
    Mahwah, NJ 07430

  • http://Physician.com/ James Whitfield

    To Whom It May Concern,

    This is James Whitfield Editor for Physician.com, We are a free medical publication whose sole purpose is to offer a free informational resource to both the consumer and professional public. We are featured on some of the major online medical resources.

    I've found your blog through a few of our mutual online affiliates and would love to work with you as well. I have interest in being included within your blog roll and would love to explore possibilties. Thank you for your time, I look forward to your response.

    James Whitfield
    1 International Blvd
    Mahwah, NJ 07430

  • jiaxinyan

    Dear Dr. Racaniello,
    I was a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Peter Palese during 1987-1989. Now I am a professor of virology in Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, China.
    I found this interesting website in last April. I have translated some of your articles about influenza into Chinese and published them in the website of our institute (http://www.wibp.com.cn). They were copied by many other Chinese websites. One of the most popular articles that I have translated is “Why swine flu isn’t so scary”by Vincent Racaniello on 2 May 2009. This article translated was cited by many websites in China and it was very helpful for Chinese to have correct opinion on this pandemic H1N1 influenza in advance. When we look back more than half a year later, this is very meanigful.
    Thank you very much.
    Prof. Jiaxin YAN

  • satish17530

    Dr.Vincent Racaniello .. Respected sir.. I just came across virology blogs now. Nice to read about you Sir. Im currently working on seasonal influenza. Sir, is there any option that embryonated egg cell culture can be used., i.e., i wanted to know whether can amniotic membrane be grown as cell culture for influenza isolation purpose Sir..

  • jennifermiracle

    Vincent can you help us?
    A letter from Sue to anyone who can help,

    I have recently been diagnosed with small cell Lung Cancer, have had Morgellons 4 1/2 years.
    I had a son Joshua who died Feb.17, 2006 from a Glioblastoma Brain Cancer and he was also a victim of Morgellons Syndrome. My son’s suffering from the two horrors was beyond anything any human or creature should suffer.
    Back then most of the doctors called Morgellons DOP, so the suffering was even more profound for my child to be told he was crazy rather then very ill.
    I don’t think anyone could ever understand the suffering he went through, now I walk the path of Cancer/Morgellons but my doctors so far have put a diagnosis of Morgellons rather then crazy to ease a bit of my pain.
    They seem to believe me but yet I think I may have a post traumatic stress disorder from the treatment I received from my doctors 4 years ago and I don’t feel at ease discussing Morgellons with them.
    My hair just fell out from Chemotherapy. 2 days ago, all at once, with it came the millions of red, blue, black and clear-white fibers and springtail’s, spiders, ants, dog scabies, human or dog lice we, with Morgellons, have come to know.
    I know losing hair for a woman or man is very tough during chemotherapy and radiation which I start on
    June 30th along with more chemotherapy, but to have the bugs and fibers coming out of your scalp is a torture beyond words.
    My beautiful child lived this torture, he did not deserve this pain, there are many children out there with this un-known horror, trying to come to grasp with the disease, parents that don’t understand and doctors who still carry the stigma of (It’s all in your head) and dump drugs in their poor broken bodies.
    I have no doubt that Autism, All of the Hyper-Active Disorders and yes now Cancer has something to do with Morgellons, as I’m sure you folks at CDC have by now heard many people with Morgellons are being diagnosed with cancer.
    Many of us have Chronic Fatigue, Chronic Pain disorder from Neuropathy, MS, and many disorders where we were told by you from CDC through Mr. Dan Rutz were conditions that would not kill us, so maybe you felt no rush to get answers for us.

    WE are dying now, please help us I beg you. I have lost so many friends from Morgellons Syndrome, I’ve lost my son, a young man who could have giving so very much love and kindness to mankind is gone.

    I beg you, help us, please tell us what was found in your study, you promised answers for us, now I feel you have really let us down.
    It was not just a way to keep us quiet for a while was it?
    Please don’t let us down.
    Thank you for providing this e-mail address for us, please let us know what you have found.
    Sincerely, Sheila Sue Laws, Gaithersburg, MD

    Sue Laws passed on shortly after this letter . So many of us are dying now.
    Please someone help us , Fiber Disease turns Cancerous,
    Please , Please HELP US.
    Jennifer Miracle

  • http://www.healthwellnesstips.net/ health_and_wellness_tips

    I'm not finished read this yet, but it's so fabulous 'n I'll back again when I was finished my job 😀

  • hicontreras

    Hello, I am a Master Degree Student and I work with the genomic of human influenza virus A.
    I want to congratulate you on this blog has excellent information, thanks

  • Marcella McClure

    Hi Vincent,

    The powers that be are finally allowing me to teach Virology again after way too many years
    of Molecular Evolution and Bioinformatics Lab. I will alternate Virology with Molecular Evolution.
    I am going to have my Virology students read this blog. Still haven't decided on a book yet, cost is a big factor out here in the last best place. Still teaching a Bioinformatics Lab for graduate students.

    Hope all is well with you.
    Marcie McClure
    Montana State University

  • http://www.theravive.com/ The Counselor

    Hey, I found this blog while googling virology and its very interesting. I am coming from a novice perspective, so my comments may be a bit naieve, but I do fear a widespread pandemic due to the earths extremely dense population compared with that of 100's of years ago. Also, today, unlike any other point in history, people can move from one side of the world to the other in a matter of hours or days. I sometimes wonder if its only a matter of time when a common influenze mutates into something horribly pernicious. I just dont think we would stand much of a chance. Great field of study though, I remember reading the Andromeda Strain in high school and thinking I wanted to be a gene splicer :)

  • thor183


    I have a question about dsDNA viruses such as vaccina. Do both strands code for proteins. If I'm reading the gene bank entries correctly, I think so. but I'm not sure.

    Also, in eukaryotes, this isn't generally true, or am I ill informed?