Feb. 23, 2021

S1E16: Dr. Keith Gagnon - The Nation's Mutation, a U.S. Variant


This is our final interview for Season 1 and it's our biggest one to date: we got a chance to interview Dr. Keith Gagnon, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at SIU whose lab has uncovered a U.S.-specific coronavirus variant that accounts for about half of the cases in the nation! He has been featured on many major news outlets as more information about this mutation is uncovered. We were so honored he took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us and frankly he filled us with a lot of hope for the future - while the topic of conversation is scary, we were grateful he was able to explain things in layman's terms. We learned a lot and think you will too!

Stay tuned for our end of Season 1 wrap-up episode and our kick-off of Season 2 as we commemorate the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. There are many great things in store and we can hardly wait to share them with you! 

Transcript
Caroline Raymond:

Hi, I'm Caroline Amos. And I'm Raymond McAnally. And we are FATIGUED (laughter).

Caroline Amos:

All right, Dr. Keith gagnant. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Well, I'm an associate professor here at Southern Illinois, Illinois University in Carbondale. So SEIU been here for six and a half years, I grew up in New England, went to college and did my PhD in North Carolina, did some postdoctoral work in Dallas, Texas area, I have three kids and beautiful wife. I play basketball when the gym is open, and there's not a pandemic going on. I like to work on cars, with my hands around the house. And I love my job because science is a nice a merger or marriage of working with your hands, but also getting to think critically.

Caroline Amos:

Oh, I love that. That's awesome. Yeah, man, many facets then I guess. So. Congratulation.

Raymond McAnally:

And for our audience, what is what is your area of expertise?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

So I traditionally trained as an RNA biochemist. So RNA is the cousin molecule to DNA doesn't quite get as much fanfare, but it performs many important roles in the cell and in biology. So that's what I learned when I was an undergraduate graduate student was how to work with RNA and the many roles it plays in biology. So that's my background sort of RNA biology or on RNA biochemistry. And the two major areas we've worked on the most. Before we started working on SARS, COBie two was a disease called Lou Gehrig's disease. This is also known as a my atrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, was the devastating neurological disorder. And so we try to understand more about what's going on at the molecular cellular level, and are there ways we could come up with strategies to treat it. And the other area is, like gene therapy development, there is a type of enzyme called CRISPR. And CRISPR is being it's a bacterial enzyme that's being co opted or developed as a gene therapy tool. very promising, but it's got some it's got some problems, it's not quite perfect, it didn't evolve to work. And people evolved to work in bacteria to fight against, you know, bacteria phages. So it needs a little bit of engineering. And so that's kind of what my lab does is we do some of the engineering of this enzyme, so it can be hopefully suitable for human gene therapy or human use. That's very cool. And of course, we started sequencing, SARS, COVID, two viruses this year, so yeah, well, so that's the whole reason we wanted to talk to you today. As you can read in the news, Dr. Keith, or Dr. G, as I like to call him now has part of his lab was important in discovering the new mutation of COVID-19.

Caroline Amos:

Tell us a little bit more about what the process of discovering a mutation of a virus looks like?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Well, it starts with a lot of painstaking sequencing, a lot of called molecular biology, you have to get access to some of these samples, that took a long time to come up with an agreement with the state where we could access clinical samples. There's some important equipment and expertise. So we had to set all that up. And then we were able to eventually start sequencing the genome of the virus. And for those who are not really hardcore scientists, what we're talking about is, the genome is all those sort of letters that make up the the book of what the virus is, you know, think of it as a book with 30,000 letters in it that make up words and sentences and chapters and all that. And so that's sort of like what a genome is, it has all the information to reproduce another organism or, in this case, another virus. And so what we do is we look at every single one of those letters to see if any of them have changed. Now, we don't do this manually. We have computers, which we've trained to screen through and scan through this very, very quickly. And we look for changes in that sequence. And we compare this these sequences of different viruses all against each other, essentially See, how much does it change from maybe the first Coronavirus in China? versus how much does it change from one that we sequenced last month, you know, in Illinois, so we can track all this. And by doing this, we can determine if we're getting any significant changes or important changes, maybe a recurring change that we see over and over again and multiple viruses, and then that sort of constitutes a new family or a new variant of the virus. That's kind of the process that we go through. And a lot of people are working in this area around the world looking for these variants and trying to keep our finger on the pulse, if you will, to make sure we don't get caught with our by surprise.

Caroline Amos:

Yeah.

Raymond McAnally:

What, um, when you say viruses, you're Are you referring to the these individual samples that you're able to obtain?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

That's correct. So these are samples that were basically mouth swabs are called nasal pharyngeal swabs, the NP swabs from patients. And so that's what's collected during the time of testing. And then, if the test comes up positive, those samples typically get archived in the freezer. And then my lab later gets access to those and we can sequence those positive samples to see what kind of variant that virus was. What kind of mutations it had its genome.

Caroline Amos:

Wow,

Unknown:

are you?

Raymond McAnally:

Are you limited to the samples that you have physical access to? Or are there labs like you're sharing the genome information?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

That's a great question. So, so the types of some analyses are limited to what we have on hand that we generate, but but the vast majority of the analyses we do can be done with lots of data by other groups. And so my lab, we've only sequenced about maybe close to 600 genomes so far. But there is about 450,000 that have been sequenced globally around the world. And these are all actually, I think there's more than that. But they're all deposited in these databases, where then researchers like me, we can go, we can pull those out. And so this is how we sort of identified this one variant that my lab recently sort of reported, is, we were looking at our Illinois data, our local data, and we saw some trends. And then we just simply want to ask, Is this trend true in the United States? How does this trend look around the world? And so we were able to pull that data and analyze that at larger scale? And so your answer is yes, the answer to your question is yes, there's a lot of people we're all sharing our data. And that's, that's sort of key to catching these new variants. So...

Raymond McAnally:

Yeah, I can only imagine is it? Is it a situation where that has that sharing has improved? We've heard, you know, you hear in the news, or, to be honest, I imagine, we think we know it from movies and TV shows more than anything that that labs, kind of, for reasons for funding and, and research and kind of their own r&d. Stay a little bit siloed. Is that is that true of the real science world? Or is this something that new that's happening, that that all this information is being shared globally?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

So, so yes, and no to that question, let me pick this apart a little bit, because I know I asked about three questions. I mean, they're all very related, it's a great question, to see if we can unpack a little bit. So traditionally, yes, academic scientists were a little bit protective of our of our data, you know, we put a lot of blood sweat and tears into collecting this data, trying to make sense of it. And then, you know, we have to publish and disseminate that. And unfortunately, for better or worse, our careers, whether we get funding or we can certain things depends on what we publish and, and what journals we publish in. And so sort of naturally, people are a little protective. Buta couple of these databases in particular one called, it's pronounced, he said, er g said, it's sort of the one of the big major databases out there for putting these genomes into. And they have, then they were around before the pandemic, and but they, they've been heavily used during the pandemic. And they have tried to go out of the way to sort of share openly, but at the same time, protect the rights, if you will, scientists with their data. So when we pulled all that data from the gisa, database, we, we have to make sure we cite the people who contributed that data. And so we made sure we had, you know, gave them credit for all for sharing their data with us. And the same goes for my lab, we, we submit it on there, and it's shared with others. So there is a little bit of a protectiveness naturally, but during the pandemic, people have let our we've let our guard down a little bit for the better good of you know, the world really well. That's good. Yeah. And the data sharing is much is getting better and better. And it doesn't go as fast as it could. And there's still some groups or places around the world that a little hesitant to share with share their data. But I think in general, it's very open and it's getting better. And one of the few silver linings of the pandemic is just how do we come together to tackle these big problems? data sharing, important part.

Caroline Amos:

Yeah, that's really encouraging to hear. Nice to see everybody work together. And yeah, for a change. Yeah, that's great. I'm really curious to know, in this new mutation that you've discovered, the one that was, I was doing some research before we talk to you today. And it was discovered, the earliest known case of it was in Houston, Texas?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah, that's correct. Using the global database, where we could download sequences from everybody else, we look for the earliest case, the earliest genome sequence that had the key key signature, or Hallmark Hallmark mutations of this variant, and we traced it back to may 20, in the Houston, Texas area.

Caroline Amos:

Now, what makes this mutation different than what we have been experiencing in the United States as a whole over this time?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

So this variant that we found, we call it 20cUS.

Raymond McAnally:

Is there a media term for it that people would be more familiar with?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

No 20cUS - it's not like the quote unquote, UK variant. Brazil is a variant that was first observed in South Africa. So it doesn't have one of those names. There are some different naming schemes that are used, for example, the variant that was first found in the UK, they call it some people just call it colloquially the UK variant. It's also known as B 117.

Raymond McAnally:

That sounds like a Star Wars character.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yep. Yep. I think it's, there's another one it's called 20I or 501YV1. So there's there and they're trying to work out the the naming system so that it's more we have a single one to use. But yeah, so ours is B12, is one naming system for us also often called 20G, because it matches really closely with a with one that's called 20G.

Caroline Amos:

20G is like a really fun name. I like that.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah. So we can call it 20 G, we can go with that. You got 20 G's.

Raymond McAnally:

Yeah. 20G's albums gonna drop next fall.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah!

Caroline Amos:

So tell us more about 20 G.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah, so. it's actually picked up a couple mutations really, either really rapidly or almost at the same time. And so that set of mutations is what defines is not a single one, but a group. And so same with the variant that first was found in the UK, it has a set of mutations which distinguish it clearly from all the other virus variants out there. And so this set of mutations for the 20cus or the 20g variant, it looks a little bit vanilla, or mundane on the surface, it doesn't have the mutations that some of the other variants in the world have. And so we've actually been kind of, I don't want to say brushed off, but a little bit, you know, not taken very seriously, because it doesn't have those telltale mutations that everybody's looking for, which is number one, why it got missed in the first place, and it grew. In the US, it's now the the probably the most dominant one, it's right around between 40 to 50% of all the variants are derived from this particular 20 G. And so it basically took over our backyard without us even knowing Oh, and of course, it doesn't have those telltale mutations. So everybody's like, well, it can't be that big of a deal. Or is it is the point I'm trying to make? And I'm saying how did this thing, gain prevalence and gain dominance in the US with all the other variants floating around, especially during a massive third pandemic wave? And there's so many other variants that that could have taken over. But this one did. So I'm arguing it's not entirely by chance. This is not by accident, I do believe and we're working on experiments to sort of demonstrate that, that this variant has some unique features to it. So the good news is, though, when you look at and you do some correlations and you say, okay, our case, our deaths per cases, they call case fatality rate, has that changed dramatically? In the US? No, it hasn't. It's actually gone down. So and there's a lot of factors that feed into that. The other end we looked at is what about hospitalization rates? Have those gone up per patients with COVID-19? And no, they're both that sort of a little, a little wavy pattern to them, but that hasn't really changed. So we don't think this variants necessarily more dangerous, but it's it may be it may be more transmissible it, that means it may spread a little faster. We may have some other advantages that other viruses other variants don't have. So we're going to watch that carefully. The last thing I'll say about its mutations is that it's now starting to pick up and acquire some of the mutations that the UK variant, the South African variant, the Brazilian variant have and these are the ones who call variants of concern that everybody's worried about, because those particular mutations have been up not proven, but highly linked to evading the immune system, reducing the effectiveness of the vaccine. And the point I want to make is that this, this variant that's in the US that gained dominance without any of those mutations, is now acquiring those mutations. And so my question is, what does that leave us with? What What happened? about what's in our what's in our own backyard? Yeah. And the answer is, Yes, we should. And that's kind of where I feel like the role my lab is playing is everybody's looking for the other variants, as they should be. What I'm more concerned with what's already here, and what we have to deal with, if we're not watching carefully. So sorry, I talked a lot. But...

Caroline Amos:

No, no, this is the reason we wanted to bring you on this is this stuff that we're really interested to learn a lot more about.

Raymond McAnally:

I would imagine, because it has taken over so much - that that its ability to do so is kind of your most concern, right?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah. How did it come out of that game? And again, we're hoping we're all hoping it was just by accident. Maybe it was by chance, maybe got lucky. But my my feeling is there's something a little extra to it. That can't be completely complained. Sorry, explained by chance. And so then, of course, now you add on top of it, these other mutations that we're worried about, again, where does that leave us? Does that mean, we have something even more worrisome. That's homegrown, if you will...

Raymond McAnally:

And it is uniquely American?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Absolutely. It's you born and raised in the US.

Raymond McAnally:

So it exhibits a lot of freedom. It exhibits a lot of like,

Dr Keith Gagnon:

it wants its guns rights. Yes. (laughing)

Raymond McAnally:

It's strong individualism. (laughing)

Caroline Amos:

Oh, my God. (laughing) Now, when you talk about mutations, and you talk about the longevity of this virus, do you have any predictions about where you think this mutation might end up?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah, so I mean, we can just speculate a little bit. By the way, all before I jump into this, I'll add that a lot of the stuff said about the different variants, especially the variance of concern, a lot of it is speculation, and even though there's some science behind it, it's really hard to prove some of the things like the media, everybody wants us to prove that it's more transmissible or prove that it's more dangerous. It's really hard to do that. From a scientific standpoint, all we can do is look at this data set. Look at that one, does it? Is there some correlation or connection, and it's just hard to do that. So keep that in mind, I'll speculate a little bit of what I think the future might hold for us, I can imagine that it's going to mutate, it's continuing to grow. And it's a it's an ongoing, ongoing, and it's a cumulative thing too, because it accumulates those acquiring noon, noon, more morning mutations. So um, a couple of ways we could go here, let's talk about the 20 g variant 20 cus variant, what's that going to do? Well, it's currently the most prevalent and dominant form in the US. And it is continuing to rise in some states and some other states, it's kind of plateaued, maybe even going down. Looks like it's going down a little bit in California. Again, it's hard to tell because you need two or three months of data to really see which way it's going, you know, it might drop a little bit one month go back up, but like it's going down in some places up, but overall, it's continuing to rise. So I think it's going to continue to be the dominant variant. I've heard the CDC say that the variant that was from the UK is probably going to take over in the US by March, I disagree, wholeheartedly, 100%, that is not going to be the case. It has to first battle against if you will or outcompete the entrenched, incumbent variant that's already here. And the competition it had in the UK is not the same competition it has here. About the time of its introduction, we're starting to see now the introduction of the variant that was first seen in Brazil, and the one that was first seen in South Africa. So we're getting some really different dynamics here in the US. And on top of that, as I mentioned, now, this 20 G is also starting to accumulate some of those mutations that we see that are the most concerning from the other variants, other international variants. So I think it's going to be a bit more of a complex interplay. The other thing is, it's hard to say if it's a if it's like a competition really between viruses, you know, no one person gets infected by two different viruses or variants at the same time or a very, very rare event, right? So it's more like population based competition, which is the most fit virus that can keep going. So um, that's what I think in the short term, I think the 20cus is going to continue to persist, I think it's going to pick up and acquire a couple new mutations that are going to accumulate. And it's going to allow it to sort of compete with these international ones. And I do you think it's going to go down over time, though, because there's so many new things that are gonna pop up. And what we're dealing with is some really uncharted territory where the virus is going from almost a completely naive population, like basically no one in the population before the pandemic could ever really had this virus. So it's just free to, to rampage through the population, in fact, sort of freely, if you will, without having to be forced to mutate, and change in order to survive. But now what we're seeing is more and more people, we're getting closer and closer, slowly to that herd immunity, more people are getting vaccinated. And so for this virus to be persistent, and just sort of continue its lineage, if you will, it has to mutate and it has to, or it has it the mutations that help it have to have to persist. And it has to be able to reinfect people evade the immune system a little bit those sort of features. And so, we don't know, but all this is going to start happening. And it's a little bit of a foot race between can we vaccinate quick enough?

Raymond McAnally:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, for lack of a better Glossary of scientific terms. Is it the nature of a virus to mutate for those reasons? It is it is trying to do what viruses do and is trying to stay alive, I guess, in some way, shape, or form?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yes, you can think of it, you know, we often don't think of viruses as being living but they possess many features of a living organism. And so mutation is sort of built into the virus, it has a low level of mutation that it happily allows to happen, because that gives it that little edge when I mean, when everything's working great, and it doesn't have to mutate. It doesn't have to evade immune system. Why would it change, so it wants to maintain what works really well, but it has a small, low level of mutation that it allows and to put in perspective, the Coronavirus, you tastes a little slower than the seasonal flu, you know, the seasonal flu that we get influenza every year. But it's still mutates fast enough, and especially with you know, the huge number of cases worldwide, to pick up enough mutations to where we get these rare events where you get a couple of mutations that really give it a jump in fitness, and ability to keep going. And so that's kind of so that's another part of the prediction, I would say is we're going to continue to see novel variants pop up all over the world, especially in isolated areas, because international travels pretty restricted, which explains why this 20 g variant really hasn't spread too much beyond the us because we're not really allowing that. But there's no state there's no state border controls in the US. So people freely run intermingle. And it spreads very quickly in the US. So we shouldn't be surprised to see these pop up. But we we gotta be on the lookout for new ones that could be problematic. If we're quick enough, we can catch it and do contact tracing and traditional epidemiology and sort of kill that transmission line. If you know what I mean.

Caroline Amos:

I'm really curious to know, how will the vaccine be effective against this new this new mutation?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah, so it's so far it looks like the vaccines are effective enough against some of these new mutations. I guess the concern is can the virus mutate enough to get fully around the vaccine? If it can, that's okay. You know, we'll make new vaccines and give booster shots. And who knows, maybe it'll become like a seasonal thing. And I mean, you know, where every year just like the flu where they put out a new vaccine to try and keep up with these mutations that Yeah, they have to do that with the Coronavirus. I guess that's yet to be seen.

Raymond McAnally:

Yeah, I was wondering about that. myself. I'm glad to hear you bring that up that it. So it is comparable to what we go through with different flu shots and different strains of flu every year?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah, hopefully, because it mutates a lot slower than the normal flu, the seasonal flu. We won't need, you know, booster shots or new new vaccines every year, it might be every couple years. And I guess the hope is that it will die out. I have a feeling though it will stay at a low level of persistence in the population called this sort of becoming endemic in the population. So it's sort of always there at a low level. So I think we could probably expect that to be the case. I do think though with the vaccines really rolling out and we've really got a lot of momentum with the vaccines. I do think that by the time the summer comes, as was predicted early on that the vaccines will allow us to return most of the normal life, I really think that's gonna be the case. But there could be a couple bumps in the road with some new variants as we go. But I don't think I think ultimately we, you know, the vaccinations should should help us tremendously.

Raymond McAnally:

I cannot tell you how much hope just ran through my body just because someone with your with your level of expertise and understanding of this could could say that that's what they feel. And that's - It was just my, I just had a visceral reaction to that. So thank you. Yeah. Well, because right now, it's hard to know.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Exactly. I mean, I'm not the only one who has the same feeling. I think you have people who are more optimistic and people who are more pessimistic. I tend to be a more optimistic person. But I'm also kind of a realist, but I think I'm optimistic. But I think the reality is matching that is the vaccine some so for example, the vaccines, a couple of them have been tested against the variants that are of the most concern right now, which is the one that was first found in South Africa and Brazil. I think, I think the Brazil ones been testing test, I can't recall. And then the one that was found in the UK, so and it appears that they work well enough, and they seem to almost completely 100% block death, which is a really important thing. And then severe cases that require hospitalization are way, way lower. And so that's the key. I mean, if we can convert this to something where Yeah, you get a nasty cold, but you don't feel the hospital, you don't worry about dying. If we can at least get there. That's That's good. I think we can definitely get there by the, by the summertime or the end of the summer.

Caroline Amos:

Oh, that's so great.

Raymond McAnally:

Is that typically, on a scientific level? The best case scenario for any pandemic type virus, for example? How do you know, in in your education and study, what happened to the influenza virus that hit in, you know, the 1918/1919 timeframe?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah, I mean, I'm certainly not the authority on this. But I mean, I've read some things as a leisure reading, like sort of you guys, you know,

Caroline Amos:

leisure reading, I love that!

Dr Keith Gagnon:

leisure reading, but it was a scientific, scientific, you know, angled paper article I read. And the the, the argument was that the 1918 pandemic had multiple waves. And then it came back the next year, and then the year after, but each year it was weakened and then largely disappeared, and sort of died out because it was really just too virulent. It just was, it just killed people too, too much. But we had but but then I also saw that same article, the argument that some of the annual or seasonal influenza a has the remnants of that virus. And so Okay, yeah, and so the influenza virus can recombine with other influenza viruses a lot more

Raymond McAnally:

So they don't really - in our brains, you readily. And I think it's a little more common for two influenza viruses to be in the same person. So pieces of it have somehow persisted for 100 years. But but the the major one that drove it apparently died out. And so you may also know, though, on top of that, intriguingly is that the common cold is a lot of common colds or coronaviruses. I'm not an expert in this area, too. So it's kind of tempting to think while some fragment or remnants of this source code could persist for a long time, either it just evolves to become highly transmissible, but very non toxic or non virulent to the host. So it survives better or sort of at some point recombines with another common Coronavirus, and you know, so know, they they can be eradicated but it sounds like they they lessen and degree and are somehow, but somehow do stick around and in a remnant form.

Caroline Amos:

It was interesting to think of it as like, you know, the Spanish Flu has had grandbabies. And the grandbabies are colds that we experience every day and someday Coronavirus is going to have grandbabies, too.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

That may be the case. And you know, it's important to remember too that Coronavirus is a very common in nature and and lots of animals and what we've had here what what appears to be is the jump from bats to humans, there was enough mutations and it seems to be the case. There could have been some intermediate in between but lots of Coronavirus is out there in the world. Most of them don't infect us, I don't do so very efficiently. So, at least if this ever happens again, maybe it will be a lot more prepared.

Caroline Amos:

Let's hope! How does it feel to be the bearer of such trepidatious news? trepidations might not be the right word, but it looks like came to mind.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah.

Caroline Amos:

What does it feel like to be the bearer of bad news?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Well, the question is, is it good news or bad news? Right? Because a we were very hesitant about this. When we first made the observation of this variant. It was kind of, well, it's been here for a long time. So maybe it's not a big deal. But nobody's ever said anything about we can find anything in the literature even on even on on Google nothing about this variant or and these mutations we were finding, and we thought, well, we need to say something. But, you know, so it was like, this is important, but how important and we've gotten the same feeling from the scientific community. Some people like, Oh, this is fantastic, I'm glad you characterized it, you know, this creates the backdrop for any new variants that would emerge in the US. So it's important to study this, this variant. And other people. Well, it's not the UK variants, not the variant that we saw in South Africa doesn't have those mutations. So it's not must not be important. So I get both of that, and it's kind of have mixed feelings. And I don't know, that's bad news, because it's been here for months. And we don't have a dramatically higher death rate, or hospitalization, or, you know, it sort of came on quietly, you know, didn't make a big racket. And so even even possible that it might be less virulent, or as transmissible but not any more dangerous than the original one. So who knows, maybe after we do enough studies and characterize us better, maybe it turns out that it's, it's, it's, it's a good variant that is very transmissible, but yeah, dangerous. Who knows?

Caroline Amos:

Yeah.

Raymond McAnally:

That's interesting to think about, that. That mutation can also mean that it mutates down and weakens or it it, it gets easier to combat in some way.

Unknown:

Or maybe maybe I found the good variant that we shouldn't be concerned with.

Caroline Amos:

Yeah. I'm really, I'm more anecdotally, what are you really looking forward to doing once the world returns to some semblance of normalcy? What do you miss?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Gosh, you know, I've got three kids, and like, they can't go see their friends. I'll just be happy when they can go to school. My wife is mostly staying home with the kids and, you know, helps mediate, they're, they're learning, they're learning at a distance. And it's just hard on her, I think she has a much harder job than I do. So I'm just looking forward to normal life for my kids. And then, like I said, I'd love to go to the gym and play basketball again, that would be without ask. Yeah, you know, we haven't taken any family vacations. I've been working harder since the pandemic than any other time because we're trying to maintain our normal projects, but now take on this new COVID-19 project. So I think I think it would be nice to just be able to take some vacations, just do the normal go to the restaurant, you know, I just looking forward to the things really nothing more.

Raymond McAnally:

Yeah, it's it's amazing how just those little things that the feeling of being able to spontaneously go somewhere, grab something or, you know, whether it's a restaurant or the post office, or whatnot. We were just talking my wife and I last night about the fact that we're, we're coming up on what will be her second birthday in the pandemic. And we're, we're both very, you know, we we try to understand the science of it, and we do our part. But she was like, Can we please do something a little bit special for my birthday? It just last time, you know, we had just been shut down. Everything was closed. And, you know, we did something quiet at home. So we're trying to figure out what that is. Because it's not like things have improved enough (laughter).

Caroline Amos:

Can we it's gonna be like a walk down the street today? That'd be so nice.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah, I've got I agree. We've got a two and a half year old and she's trained now she wants when we go on public, she wears her mask. If her mask comes off. She freaks out, like, what kind of world are is my portrait growing up? And you know, our masks are normal. But yeah. And in fact, earlier today, I'm sitting in my office working on my computer, and I'm wearing my mask. And I'm like, why am I wearing my mask? That was like, when I left my office 20 minutes ago, and I came I didn't take it off. It's like, we're so trained now. I never would have I mean, you know, imagine when we first started the pandemic, people were so resistant to wearing masks. Yeah, it's, it's commonplace. Yeah, you just accept it as normal life.

Caroline Amos:

Yeah, I fell asleep with mine on actually Last night, yeah, I went downstairs to pick up a package came back in, realized I was tired and fell asleep. And it took like halfway through the night for me to be like, what is on my face? What is going on, which is also really gross, because yeah, just breathe and more of my own air for a long time. We usually love to sort of round out these interview conversations with a more positive note. And honestly, frankly, this conversation was a lot more hopeful and positive than I was sort of expecting it to be. So thank you for that. Yes. I'm curious to know what, what gives you hope right now?

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Well, um, I got, I think the vaccines are huge. And unfortunately, no matter what happens, the pandemic will run its course, and you know, you can only infect people so many times. And even if we had no intervention, viruses are at some point naturally going to become less virulent, because, you know, you can't kill every host. So those simple, simple, you know, biology, things I think, are, I feel like, you know, eventually, you know, things will change, just like in the 1918 pandemic, eventually, people's immune systems adapted, or the virus couldn't adapt further. But realistically, the vaccine, I think, has been important to help push things along. And I think it was a big deal at the beginning of the pandemic, we put a lot of stress on it. And I'm glad we did, because it allowed things to move quickly. And I think it's living up to its promise, so to speak. So that gives me hope. You know, and also what I've seen is a lot of, at least in my laboratory, we've come together to solve some hard problems. sequencing the viruses genome was not a simple task, it required everybody in my lab to come in, during the pandemic, and risks themselves, you know, and put on all the the PP you know, the masks and the gear. Yeah. And there was a lot of unknowns early in the pandemic. So we didn't know how much of a risk we were taking. And, but so I got to see people come together. And I think that's, that always brings a little bit of hope to situations when we can band together and solve problems. And we see that in the world and in the science world, and in medicine, and hopefully, with general everyday people were very supportive of like, coming together and solving this.

Caroline Amos:

Yeah, gosh, that gives me so much hope. Thank you. Yeah, yay, science, listen to science, everybody listened to it? Well, awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much. I know that you don't know us at all, and that we just reached out on a whim. And I know you've got the busiest schedule in the world. So we just appreciate the fact that you took a little bit of your time to talk to us, it means so much.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Well, no, I appreciate it. I feel like I know, you guys know. So we should keep in touch. And don't forget to reach out and maybe in a couple weeks or a few months, we'll have some updates, and we'll probably be good to update. You know, well, a lot of like unknowns, we don't know what the next couple months are gonna bring. So again,

Caroline Amos:

yeah, man,

Raymond McAnally:

We'd love that!

Caroline Amos:

We'll reach out for follow up soon.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

And I like these sort of interactions, because I've done a lot of interviews with, you know, at least recently regarding this with different types of media, and, you know, sometimes the, they only have two minutes, you know, and they rapid fire and, and this is much more relaxed and enjoyable, we can actually have conversation. Soit gives me more time to go into teacher mode and, and explain things a little bit better to, you know, with our listeners and stuff out there that, you know,

Caroline Amos:

You really spell it for two people. I mean, we're both actors. I hate to admit this, but I got terrible grades and science.

Raymond McAnally:

I've never ever been hired to play a scientist yet. So I don't think I'd be good at it.

Caroline Amos:

But it's really great to have you. It's like explaining things in layman's terms. I feel like I know. I feel like I've learned something today. And hopefully whoever's listening to this will have a lot to learn as well.

Dr Keith Gagnon:

Yeah. So yeah, Everybody stay safe. Get the vaccine if you can. Keep wearing your mask for now. Stay six feet apart. Hang in there, it's gonna get better. And see how things go.

Caroline Raymond:

Hey, this is Caroline. Raymond, we wanted to say thank you for listening to this episode and let you know that there will be more every week from now until we get fatigued by it. We're building out this podcast as we go. So stay tuned for improvements on our website, our graphics, video clips and just everything else. The time was now to tell our stories so we're learning as we go. We really do appreciate your interest in support. We truly hope that the personal stories that come out in each episode can help build a better understanding of COVID-19 how it spreads and how it affects us. If you have a story or a question that you'd like us to address in an episode. please email us at fatiguepodcast@gmail.com that's fat igu ed podcast@gmail.com Thanks for listening bye