Earth’s virology course for 2016

Do you want to learn virology? Every spring I teach a virology course at Columbia University, and this year’s version has just started. I record every lecture and put the videos on YouTube. Here is a link to the playlist: Virology Lectures 2016. Lecture #1, What is a Virus, is embedded below as a teaser.

I strongly believe that the best approach to teaching introductory virology is by emphasizing shared principles. Studying the phases of the viral reproductive cycle, illustrated with a set of representative viruses, provides an overview of the steps required to maintain these infectious agents in nature. Such knowledge cannot be acquired by learning a collection of facts about individual viruses. Consequently, the major goal of my virology course is to define and illustrate the basic principles of animal virus biology.

You can find the complete course syllabus, pdf files of the slides, and reading at

My goal is to be Earth’s virology professor, and this is my virology course for the planet.

Harald zur Hausen on human papillomaviruses

I interviewed Harald zur Hausen, MD., recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in Manchester UK at the 2013 meeting of the Society for General Microbiology. We spoke about his career, his work leading to the discovery that human papillomavirus types 16 and 18 are causative agents of cervical cancer, and his thoughts on other agents of human cancers.

Slow motion sneezing

A bit unsettling, but this is what happens when a sneeze is not contained:

If you have a respiratory viral infection, each drop expelled can contain tens of thousands of infectious virions.

Made by South Australian Health.

Schmallenberg virus

On TWiV #186, in response to a request to talk about Schmallenberg virus, we directed the listener to our discussion of this new virus with Richard Elliott on TWiV #177 – Live in Dublin. At the same meeting (Society for General Microbiology Spring Conference 2012) Richard also gave a separate presentation on Schmallenberg virus, which can be viewed in the video below.

Update: Schmallenberg virus is a recombinant of two known orthobunyaviruses.

Building the perfect bug

This past February I was interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Company on the topic of the Fouchier and Kawaoka experiments on avian influenza virus H5N1. The video, Building the Perfect Bug, has been released by Journeyman Pictures and includes interviews with S.T. Lai, Laurie Garrett, Michael Osterholm, and Ron Fouchier (transcript available). It is far too alarmist for my taste, but both sides of the issue are represented.

The video includes sequences of me working in the cell culture laboratory. Note that I did wear a tie for my interview while Michael Osterholm did not.

Virology lectures

Each year I teach basic virology to medical, dental, and nursing students here at Columbia University Medical Center. Here are videocasts of my three lectures for 2009: Introduction to Virology I and II, and Viral Pathogenesis.

Introduction to Virology Part I

Download Introduction to Virology Part I (15 MB)

Introduction to Virology Part II

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Download Introduction to Virology Part II (34 MB)

Viral Pathogenesis

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Download Viral Pathogenesis (16 MB)

A better influenza virus animation

influenza-exvivoEarlier this year an influenza virus animation spread on YouTube just after the emergence of swine-origin influenza H1N1. I invited readers to criticise the animation which contained several errors.

A much better depiction of influenza virus animation has been created by XVIVO. It’s not only more beautifully rendered, but is scientifically much more accurate.

A slightly different version of the same video can be found at, but I prefer the video at XVIVO. The main problem is that NPR has added voice-over by Robert Krulwich.  I find his narration annoying – he seems to be speaking down to the viewer, and he simplifies viral replication to the extent that what really occurs is obscured. For example, after the influenza virion is taken into the cell by endocytosis, Krulwich says

…and down it goes deeper and deeper and that welcoming structure disperses, and the virus capsule bursts and out comes the secret recipe for how to make more viruses and those little noodly things…

I don’t know what a virus ‘capsule’ is, but I assume he’s referring to the enveloped virion. And it doesn’t ‘burst’ – rather the viral and endosomal membranes fuse, allowing the viral RNAs to enter the cytoplasm. I understand that he’s trying to make virology accessible, but there are ways to do that without bending the truth. I think that Krulwich should take Influenza 101.

And ‘secret recipe’ and ‘noodly things’? Teaching does not work if you insult the students.

Conversations from Penn State: Emerging Diseases

In the current episode of the Penn State University interview series called “Conversations from Penn State“, Peter Hudson, who is Willaman professor of biology and director of Penn State’s Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, discusses the dynamics of infectious diseases, their spread, and their transmission from animals to humans.

TWiV 33: Live in Philly video

Thanks to Chris Condayan and Ray Ortega of the American Society for Microbiology for recording and editing TWiV live at the ASM General Meeting in Philadelphia, 19 May 2009.

Influenza discussion at TWiT live

twit-marc-vincent-colleenMarc Pelletier of Futures in Biotech and Vincent Racaniello of This Week in Virology discussed the current influenza situation in a live video broadcast hosted on the TWiT network this past Friday. We are very grateful to Leo LaPorte and the TWiT network for providing the video feed for the show. The audio was recorded and will be posted as an upcoming episode of Futures in Biotech. Many thanks to Colleen and Dane for their great help with the session. Above is a screen capture taken at the end of the show. Colleen is at the microphone and Marc and Vincent can be seen on two monitors of the skypesaurus. It was amazing to be part of a TWiT production, especially after having watched so many of them. The video and audio were excellent and I enjoyed seeing the technical underpinnings of TWiT live. This live video solution will, in my opinion, revolutionize science teaching.

A video of the entire session at On-Demand TWiT Video. Look for ‘Futures in Biotech 42’; you might have to scroll down the page a bit as other videos are added.