MicrobeTVI started my first podcast, This Week in Virology, in September 2008, together with Dickson Despommier, father of the Vertical Farm. Although I viewed the creation of a science podcast as an experiment, I was surprised when people began to listen. Since then I have created five other podcasts, scattered at different websites. Now you can find all of them at MicrobeTV.

MicrobeTV is a podcast network for people who are interested in the life sciences. More specifically, the podcasts of MicrobeTV use conversations among scientists as teaching tools. Although I have been a research scientist my entire career, I have also had opportunities to teach graduate students, medical students, and undergraduate students. A long time ago I realized that I love to teach, and my podcasts are the outside-the-classroom expression of that sentiment.

My original idea behind TWiV was to teach virology to the broader public by recording conversations among scientists. The success of this approach led me to create This Week in Parasitism, This Week in Microbiology, Urban Agriculture, and This Week in Evolution, all of which can now be found at MicrobeTV.

You may ask why I do so many podcasts. The answer is simple – because I love talking about science and teaching others about this amazing field that makes our lives better. I could not do all these podcasts without my terrific co-hosts. I am also grateful to the American Society for Microbiology for their assistance and support for many years, especially Chris Condayan and Ray Ortega and the Communications Department.

MicrobeTV is the home for all of the podcasts that I have produced (and there are more to come!). But I’d also like to use MicrobeTV as a platform to showcase other science shows. The requirements are few: you should be passionate about your subject, you should have a great relationship with your audience, and your podcast audio must be excellent. If you are interested in joining MicrobeTV, send a note to shows@microbe.tv.

MicrobeTV – Science Shows by Scientists.

The Vertical Farm

I’ve been hearing about the vertical farm concept from Dickson Despommier for years – as a faculty colleague of his here at Columbia University Medical Center, and more recently as co-host of TWiV and TWiP. I could not help but be enthusiastic as the idea grew from a seed, to seeing Dickson jetting around the globe trying to build the first prototype. Now that the eponymous book is out, does it stand up to the hype?

The Vertical Farm begins with a brief history of agriculture: how humans learned how to grow their food, slowly developing the technology to eke more and more from the earth. We learn about how machinery, petroleum, and fertilizer have impacted farming. But more importantly, Dr. Despommier reveals how farming, while growing more efficient, has slowly destroyed earth’s ecology. The burning of forests to provide farm lands and the resulting increase in global carbon dioxide, and the agricultural runoff that has lead to destruction of coral reefs, to name just two. Along the way we learn just how destructive big cities can be – New York City alone discards 1 billion gallons a day of grey water. These were the most compelling parts of the book, where I learned how good and bad growing food has been.

Next, Dr. Despommier turns to his solution to these problems and more – the vertical farm. He is clearly excited about how growing crops in skyscrapers, with aeroponic technology and extensive recycling, will solve many of the world’s environmental problems as they relate to agriculture. No longer will we have to discard so much precious water; land can be allowed to return to hardwood forests, decreasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere; and perhaps the coral reefs can rebound as we stop dumping fertilizers into the oceans.  These all seem reasonable scenarios. But will they work?

No one knows – not even Dr. Despommier, the consummate optimist, because a vertical farm has not yet been built. The last parts of the book, which deal with the specifics of the vertical farm, are singularly unsatisfying, because there are no details. As Dr. Despommier admits, this is because he is not an architect or engineer. We would like to know exactly how these farms of the future will be built, and their yields and energy costs, but that information cannot yet be provided. I understand all the reasons why – but perhaps Dr. Despommier should have engaged some experts to provide more details. As a result the latter half of the book is unsatisfying because you just can’t wrap your mind around exactly what these farms will be like.

In the end, The Vertical Farm is a dream by a particularly good dreamer. Whether or not those dreams will come true – Dr. Despommier certainly believes they will – is anyone’s guess. I’m rooting for Dickson and the solution to earth’s future food needs, but we’ll know the answer only when a vertical farm – or two – have been built.

Please accept my apologies for this brief foray away from virology – vrr

Futures in Biotech 58: The Vertical Farm

I joined Marc Pelletier on futures-in-biotechepisode 58 of Futures in Biotech for a conversation with Dickson Despommier. We talked about some of Dickson’s passions – eukaryotic parasites and vertical farming. The idea for placing hydroponic farms in skyscrapers, about to be realized, was conceived by one of Professor Despommier’s classes at Columbia University.

Video courtesy of Team ODTV


Download video (179 MB .mp4)

TWiV 47: Vertical vaccine farm

twiv-200Hosts: Vincent Racaniello and Dick Despommier

On episode #47 of the podcast “This Week in Virology”, Vincent and Dick discuss influenza virus-like particle vaccines produced in insect and plant cells, rapid sharing of influenza research, and answer listener questions about cytomegalovirus, viral evolution and symbiosis and much more.

[powerpress url=”http://traffic.libsyn.com/twiv/TWiV047.mp3″]

Click the arrow above to play, or right-click to download TWiV #47 (51 MB .mp3, 71 minutes)

Subscribe to TWiV in iTunes, by the RSS feed, or by email

Links for this episode:
A Farm on Every Floor
Influenza virus-like particles in insect and plant cells
PLoS Currents: Influenza
Transmission of 2009 H1N1 influenza virus to turkeys [Thanks Debbie!]
Baxter produces Vero cell H1N1 vaccine [Thanks Peter!]
Boundaries of Darwinism podcast [Thanks David!]
Phages in human intestine: papers onetwothree [Thanks Terry!]
Post-exposure varicella vaccine [Thanks Patricia!]
Open science movement hereherehere, and here [Thanks Jim!]
Graduate programs in virology [Thanks Greggory and Blake!]
Post-exposure Marburg and Ebola vaccines [Thanks John!]
Vaccinia infection in the laboratory [Thanks Russ!]
Animations of bacteriophage T4 life cycle [Thanks Jim!]

Weekly Science Picks
Vincent Bionumbers
Dick Ocean: An Illustrated Atlas by Sylvia A. Earle, Linda K. Glover

Send your virology questions and comments (email or mp3 file) to twiv@microbe.tv or leave voicemail at Skype: twivpodcast