A virology course for all

Virology class 2013The spring semester has begun at Columbia University, which means that it is time to teach my virology course.

The fourth annual installment of my virology course, Biology W3310, has begun. This course, which I taught for the first time in 2009, is intended for advanced undergraduates and convenes at the Morningside Campus. Until I started this course, no instruction in virology had been offered at the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University since the late 1980s. This is a serious omission for a first-class University. Sending graduates into the world without even a fundamental understanding of viruses and viral disease is inexcusable.

Course enrollment has steadily increased: 45 students in the 2009, 66 students in 2010, 87 students in 2012 and an amazing 195 students this year. I am gratified that so many students want to learn about the world of viruses. This year our class was moved into a wonderful lecture hall in the brand-new Northwest Corner building.

Readers of virology blog can watch every lecture in the course. You will find a videocast of each lecture at the course website, at my YouTube channel, and at iTunes University. The complete 2012 version of this course is available online, at iTunes University, and YouTube.

This year we will also be offering my virology course at Coursera. Details will be forthcoming.

To those who would like to know if the 2013 version of my course differs from the 2012 version, I reply: do viruses change? Some parts will be the same, others will be different. The goal of my virology course is to provide an understanding of how viruses are built, how they replicate and evolve, how they cause disease, and how to prevent infection. After taking the course, some of the students might want to become virologists. The course will also provide the knowledge required to make informed decisions about health issues such as immunization against viral infections. It should also be possible to spot badly constructed headlines about virology stories.

I am excited about teaching virology to 195 Columbia University students this year. But the internet makes it possible to spread the word even further. So far nearly 75,000 students registered for the iTunes University version of my 2012 virology course! As a professor used to teaching relatively small numbers of students in a classroom, this reach is truly amazing.

Virology lecture: Picornaviruses

I was scheduled to deliver a lecture on picornaviruses to a virology class at Yale University this week, but had to cancel at the last minute. I prepared this screencast to make up for my absence.

The Picornaviridae is a family of non-enveloped, positive-strand RNA viruses which contains some well known viruses including poliovirus, rhinovirus, hepatitis A virus, enterovirus 71, and foot-and-mouth disease virus. In this lecture I cover basic aspects of picornavirus replication and pathogenesis, including attachment and entry, translation and protein processing, RNA synthesis, assembly and release, disease and immunization.

Earth’s virology professor

w3310 virology 2012Nearly four months ago I stood at the front of a crowded classroom at Columbia University and began teaching the third year of my undergraduate virology course. Twice a week we discussed the basic principles of virology, including how virions are built, how they replicate, and how they cause disease. Yesterday was the 26th and last lecture in the course, entitled “H5N1”. In this lecture we covered the recent controversy over the publication of results on adapting avian influenza H5N1 viruses to transmit by the airborne route among ferrets. Fittingly, one of the two papers in question will be published tomorrow.

Each lecture in my virology course has been recorded as a videocast and is available at the course website, at iTunes University, or on Vimeo. Eighty-seven Columbia University undergraduates registered for the course in 2012, but over 14,000 individuals have subscribed to virology W3310 through iTunes University. I believe that it is important that the general public understand as much as possible about viruses, so they can participate in the debate about issues that impact them, such as XMRV or H5N1. It is my goal to be Earth’s virology professor.

I am sure that the students were perplexed when I took their photo before the first lecture. Little did they know that they were about to take a very different science course, one taught by a professor who uses social media (blogs, podcasts, twitter) to teach the subject both in and out of the classroom. As one student wrote to me yesterday:

I wish that every professor I had had such passion and energy and a TWiV-like blog/show so I could be updated on all the big science gossip/news to complement my in-class knowledge! I can’t recount how many times I told my non-science friends about TWiV as an exhibit to prove that science is cool and important. Thank you for being passionate scientists that made me want to study science (and be super nerdy but connected to the world) in the first place.

I would like to thank all the students of virology in and out of the classroom for their enthusiasm and their willingness to learn a complex subject. Virology will be offered again in the spring of 2013, and you can be reassured that it will be different. My course, like viruses, is continually evolving.

Virology course at halfway point

virology courseIt is spring break for students at Columbia University, which means that my annual virology course is one lecture past the halfway point. The first eleven lectures addressed basic aspects of viral replication in cell culture, including virus entry into cells, genome replication, and assembly. From this point onwards we will be discussing viral infection of a host, including pathogenesis, immunity, immunization, antivirals, and evolution.

All my virology lectures are available as videocasts (slides and audio) either at the course website, or at the new iTunes University.

Virology lecture #25: West Nile Story

In the final lecture of my virology course, Professor Dickson Despommier weaves a story about the arrival of West Nile virus to the United States in the summer of 1999. This is a special treat that you won’t want to miss, as Prof. Despommier is a wonderful storyteller.

Download: .wmv (422 MB) | .mp4 (108 MB)

Visit the virology W3310 home page for a complete list of course resources.

Virology lecture #23: Emerging viruses

Download: .wmv (346 MB) | .mp4 (91 MB)

Visit the virology W3310 home page for a complete list of course resources.

Virology lecture #22: Evolution

Download: .wmv (393 MB) | .mp4 (102 MB)

Visit the virology W3310 home page for a complete list of course resources.

Virology lecture #21: Antivirals

Download: .wmv (349 MB) | .mp4 (90 MB)

Visit the virology W3310 home page for a complete list of course resources.

Virology lecture #20: Vaccines

Download: .wmv (314 MB) | .mp4 (82 MB)

Visit the virology W3310 home page for a complete list of course resources.

Virology lecture #18: HIV pathogenesis


Download: .wmv (330 MB) | .mp4 (72 MB)

Visit the virology W3310 home page for a complete list of course resources.