Viruses Are Dumb, But We Can Learn From Them Nonetheless: A Conversation with Adolfo Garcia-Sastre


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Sep 22 2020 42 mins   6

How do viruses hijack your body’s cells? Why do they cause infectious disease in some people and not others, and what can they teach us about human biology? The COVID-19 situation is unprecedented, but the research questions it’s triggered aren’t the first of their kind.

Tune in to discover:

  • Why viral mechanisms that appear sophisticated might be simpler than you think, and how they are surprisingly error-prone
  • How to understand the relationship between viral infection mechanisms and mechanisms of viral spread
  • How genetic information and knowledge is passed to and from viruses

With over 25 years’ worth of research experience on the molecular biology of influenza viruses, Adolfo Garcia-Sastre is both a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. For Garcia-Sastre, studying viruses is a way of simplifying the study of more complex organisms, including humans.

“Most people think that…viruses are smart, and that they come with very smart mechanisms…I am one of the few scientists that believe the opposite; I think that viruses are extremely dumb…they are just what they are because that’s what they’ve evolved to,” he says.

He continues by explaining why he’s developed this uncommon understanding of viruses, hitting on a number of compelling topics along the way, including viral latency, virus virulence and the balance between infecting a host and keeping it alive, the transfer of genetic information in the evolution and adaptation of infectious viruses, and why he views the question, “Are viruses alive?” to be one of mere semantics.

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK