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Paul Turner gives listeners a gift in this podcast with his clear yet complex exploration of viruses and immune system interactions. As he addresses Richard’s questions in this continuation of Finding Genius’s virus series, he allows for speculation yet also provides what evidence tells scientists. This perfect combination makes for an entertaining and enriching conversation.

Listeners will hear

  • A description of one of his favorite viral entry mechanisms—a bacteriophage that uses pili to its advantage for fusion,
  • His take on infectious viruses’ ability to sense, which leads to an amazing description of a two-part binding system, and
  • Other fantastical ways viruses participate in Darwin’s model of traits evolving over time.

Paul Turner is the Rachel Carson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the Yale School of Medicine. He specializes in how viruses evolutionarily adapt as infectious diseases and also focuses on the potential of phage therapy as one of several public health intervention strategies. As he answers Richard’s questions, listeners are in for a treat as his professorial skill at explaining combines with his own enthusiasm for the mechanisms viruses engage. He offers interesting examples to illustrate every answer, such as a bacteriophage that acts more like an animal virus with an envelope that fuses to a bacterial cell as its pili contract. 

As he addresses the question of viruses working together, he describes the ability of viral mechanisms to overwhelm the system; while a division of labor in viruses would be impressive, their capacity to overwhelm may be derived more from their variety and survival mechanisms. While division of labor is a part of cellular evolution, he says, and that’s why multi cellularity is successful, do you viruses need that capability to be successful?

He comments that we tend to valuate success as humans in limited ways and viruses are one of the most successful things on the planet. He also discusses his belief that viruses are alive, why long-term latency works in a virus like HIV, and the mechanism in viral spread that resets the configuration, constraining mutations between organisms more than we think. Listen in for many more examples of the vast viral world.

For more about his work, see his website:

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