Welcome to STEMology – Show Notes

Season 1, Episode 27

Eggcellent formula, Face-planting geckos, Memory Transfer, and Cussing Ducks

In today’s episode of STEMology…

David & Sophie talks about the universal formula for an egg, the use of geckos’ tail when landing on a tree, how worms transfer memories to its offspring and how male musk ducks can mimic human speech

Eggcellent Formula

With those four parameters, you can stick that into equation and you can mathematically describe the exact surface of any egg, the exact surface of any bird’s egg in the universe

They created their robo gecko and they did a tail and tail-less (geckos) experiments and also different length tales. And what they found was in their trials, 55% of the trials involving the tailed robot, they were able to land successfully and 15% of no tail robots were able to land successfully.

Memory Transfer

 The worm is taking up some bacterial RNA …  it’s acting on its own genetic code and its germ cells, which will be like its reproductive cells basically. And that is changing the genetic code of these germ cells, such that when they produce offspring, the offspring’s nervous system works in a slightly different way, such that it’s programmed to now avoid this bacteria.

Cussing Ducks

So basically, like we have sounds that Ripper is imitating years later, that will literally produce that he heard at like a very early age …   And apparently they say in the paper, that’s consistent with how songbirds are primed to sing.

This is a “kind of, sort of, vaguely close” copy of the words that David & Sophie speak in this episode.

IT IS NOT 100% accurate.  We are very sorry if we have spelt something completely incorrectly.  If it means a lot to you to have it corrected, email us at stemology@ramaley.media

STEMology s1e27

[00:00:00] Sophie: Welcome to episode 27 of STEMology

[00:00:03] David: a podcast sharing some of the interesting fun, and sometimes just patently bizarre news in science, technology, engineering, or maths.

[00:00:10] Sophie: Your hosts are Dr. David Farmer and Dr. Sophie Calabretto

[00:00:14] David: in today’s episode of STEMology, we’ll be chatting about an eggcellent formula, face planting geckos

[00:00:21] Sophie: memory transfer in worms and cussing ducks.

Egg-cellent formula

[00:00:26] Sophie: Dave eggs. Yeah. I like eggs, actually. I know some people don’t like eggs and I feel like if you didn’t eat them as a child, like they’re a bit weird. Why do we eat the embryos of other people’s animals or the animals?

[00:00:38] David: Because they’re delicious fried scrambled or poached.

[00:00:40] Sophie: That’s true. All right. A sign. So

[00:00:42] David: omelet.

[00:00:43] Um, they have been discovered there was a lovely thing in the press release for, they said they’ve been described as the most perfect thing in the paper.

[00:00:50] Sophie: and you know what I’ve got off, I’ve got by whom press release by whom.

[00:00:55] David: By whom. So I looked up the references to a book called the most perfect thing the inside and outside [00:01:00] of a bird’s egg by T R Birkhead.. Um, the summary for it says bird eggs are amazing biological structures For some, they are religiously revered as symbols of fertility and birth.

[00:01:10] For most, they are simply regarded as breakfast. We are in the latter category, apparently.

[00:01:15] Sophie: Yeah.

[00:01:15] I think so. So the amazing thing they’ve done with these eggs Dave, is that they’ve finally discovered a universal mathematical formula that can describe any bird’s egg in nature. Now, Dave, think about all the different birds and all the different eggs. And we now have one equation that describes literally every freaking egg.

[00:01:37] David: Right. So can I ask a really simple question? Right? Cause I have, after reading this half, they’re trying to read this paper. I have more questions than I have explanation

[00:01:46] Sophie: Okay. And I will make things up or answer with the best of my ability.

[00:01:50] David: so as you say, it’s a universal equation, right? So it’s what makes it universal that we can describe it in terms of. like, if I give you a [00:02:00] few parameters, like the length and the breadth of the egg, you can then say what the overall geometrical shape is to me. What makes it universal?

[00:02:06] Sophie: So the universal is in reference to the fact that it can be universally used for every egg.

[00:02:13] David: right.

[00:02:14] Sophie: so the whole idea is we’ve written equation, which, and you’re right. It depends on, so we’ve got four parameters, we’ve got the egg length, the maximum breadth, the shift of the vertical axis. So I’m not going to go into, cause it’s just double geometry and, the diameter of a quarter of the egg length. So the quarter of the length, the diameter there. So with those four parameters, you can stick that into equation and you can mathematically describe the exact surface of any egg, the exact surface of any bird’s egg in the univers e, Dave.

[00:02:45] David: Like that doesn’t seem like it should be possible.

[00:02:48] Sophie: Where, and so this is the thing where I think it’s quite, you know, we do have like universal equations for some things like, for example, I was just like, thinking like whatever our other universal equations, we know, like we can describe like forces between planets and like this kind of [00:03:00] stuff.

[00:03:00] But if you think that we’re talking about something, that’s like the geometrically very specific. Cause what I didn’t realize, Dave is there’s sort of four accepted egg shapes. Right? And the sort of one then like bleeds into the next. So you’ve got a sphere, so we know what a sphere is. It’s a ball, then you’ve got an ellipsoid. So I want you to, just to think of like a perfect oval, but then like the 3d version of it, then you have an ovoid, which is kind of your classical egg shapes. So, you know, like an egg it’s sort of, it tends to be sort of tapered a little bit at one side. So it’s like a fat bar and like a slightly skinnier head.

[00:03:31] David: Yeah.

[00:03:31] Sophie: And then you’ve got pyriform eggs, and apparently these are the issues. So pyriform just means pear shaped. And the idea was like there was an old equation to describe the geometry of an egg. And it was, let me find this person’s name Hugo Scheffer. So he

[00:03:47] David: Hugo Scheffer and egg or her egg possibly.

[00:03:51] Sophie: look it’s maths and it’s from the past, so man, just guessing,

[00:03:55] David: Okay.

[00:03:56] Sophie: and the idea is, this person came up with an equation to [00:04:00] describe a chicken’s egg and a chicken’s egg is an ovoid shape. And they’ve done it in such a way where in fact, if you just set certain parameters to certain things, you can then create the ellipsoid shape and the sphere shape as well.

[00:04:10] So when length is equal to breadth, to you get a sphere, when w which has a different parameter is equal to zero, you get a lid. So we had something that described three of our egg shapes, but apparently there’s a bunch of like not chickens. What do they call? Birds? What’s the universe of chicken birds.

[00:04:25] David: Could you be less specific please?

[00:04:27] Sophie: Exactly. There’s a bunch of birds that have these weird piriform, like almost pear shaped eggs. So what they basically did is they took this like old equation and they’re like, let’s test it with every egg shape to make sure it works. They used, so an Ural owl has a very spherical like, egg. So they use that to test for like this sphere shape and emu has like a perfectly elliptical egg.

[00:04:51] They used a song thrush and an Osprey for our kind of ovoid egg. And then they used brunettes Guillemot as an example of the [00:05:00] pyriform egg. And what they found is basically they couldn’t get this equation to describe they could, it worked really well with the first three simplest shapes, but Would that piriform like it didn’t work.

[00:05:08] So basically what they did is just some fancy things and they ended up adding, an extra term. it says there’s an extra term that did, in fact, it’s a scaling factor and it is nuts like, it’s just, I don’t know if you looked at the equation at the end of the paper, but it is like one of the grossest equations I’ve ever seen.

[00:05:23] But if you stick in all your parameters for that particular egg, you can exactly describe the geometry. So that’s like the impressive part. And it came down to, I’m going to get technical for just a second Dave. turns out with that original model, W which has a thing in this equation, you can only have a maximum value of L take B on two.

[00:05:40] And if you pick something that’s bigger than that which you need to, for the pyriform things, it basically turns the shape that it describes. It doesn’t look like an egg anymore. It sort of looks like a bullet or a missile. So what they did is they put in a scaling factor to kind of curve out the bottom of

[00:05:53] David: Would it be that would make for a builder or MSI would make for altogether more dramatic reproductive function.

[00:05:58] Sophie: It would, right. Cause I bet [00:06:00] yesterday, like I was getting back to like the significance of eggs, like yeah. Apparently they’re these amazing things in a way that I never thought about. So the reason that we’re so impressed with an egg is the fact that like they’re large enough to like incubate an embryo.

[00:06:12] They’re small enough to exit the body. And I quote the most efficient way, which I don’t know. Have you seen the size of a Kiwi egg compared to a Kiwi bird? It is like the size of the Kiwi.. Everyone check out show notes. We’re going to put some links in there. It’s like, it’s huge. It’s like the size of the actual bird itself. It is really traumatic to think how that comes out.

[00:06:37] David: Oh, no, I’m looking at it right now. It’s terrible.

[00:06:39] Sophie: It’s huge, right?

[00:06:40] David: It’s like the same size

[00:06:42] Sophie: It’s like this, it takes up its entire body cavity. Basically. It’s really, this is why there aren’t that many of them surely. but oh, and also Because you know, they cannot fly

[00:06:53] David: Because of stoats and rats.

[00:06:55] Sophie: That’s right. but then also I never thought about this A lot of eggs are the shape they [00:07:00] are because once they’re laid, they won’t roll away. So the whole idea is you create this cause, you know, Yes.

[00:07:05] there are some of these kinds of more spherical type eggs, but most of them have that tapering. And it means, cause obviously like if a bird lays an egg, it starts to roll away.

[00:07:13] Like, I don’t know how dexterous wings are. They’re like pick up, uh, I guess they have feet, but they’re very busy laying other eggs. Right. So it’s and then, and then apparently structurally sound. So they’ve got this whole, there’s this whole thing about an egg shape where basically full, like the materials used to create like an egg shape.

[00:07:29] It’s actually like crazy st rong for, you know, for basically there’s use less material to make like a stronger thing. This is what this shape. So Yeah, eggs are amazing apparently anyway, so they came up with this thing, they did some maths. and the whole idea is that we can now basically describe every single shape to bird’s egg imaginable with this new, horrible equation.

[00:07:49] And then that’s super useful for when we want to use egg shapes and stuff. In other things like, I don’t

[00:07:54] David: I liked that they also pointed out. So one of the things I did understand in the paper, I think, but was, [00:08:00] um, if we understand the universality of the egg shape, it can help us understand how it evolved.

[00:08:04] Sophie: Yeah.

[00:08:05] David: Which is like for, as you’re saying, it’s called these really important biological functions, the shape of it, the structural soundness of it, the size of it in comparison to the animal, et cetera.

[00:08:13] So how that shape came about in biology is really interesting and things in biology can’t just happen randomly. They have to still have to happen according to rules in the physical universe. So when we find something like you said earlier, that is an interlinked between  mathematics and the biology. That’s really beautiful. That’s really exciting.

[00:08:32] Sophie: Yeah,

[00:08:33] so this is really cool. And I was just. uh, you know, I hadn’t even thought about math and egg shapes, but I saw this and I thought it was charming and now we can make our nice egg Yeah. So apparently like, you know, like the Gherkin in London that is based on like a bit of an egg shape. And so now it will be easier for those architects to drop their designs because they have the exact equations for their perfect egg shapes, like hats.

[00:08:52] We need to make hats now, Dave, that were perfectly egg-shaped. We can 3d print them, just put that equation in a computer in 3d [00:09:00] printed egg hat.

[00:09:00] David: now make eggs with infinite resolution because we’ve got the equation.

[00:09:04] Sophie: That’s right.

[00:09:04] David: It’s very exciting.

Face Planting Geckos

[00:09:05] Sophie: Dave, face planning. Geckos, what?

[00:09:07] David: Face planting geckos. I know this is a scientific paper that gets right to the point. The title of the paper is Tails stabilize landing of gliding geckos crashing head first into tree trunks, no messing about there.

[00:09:20] Sophie: No it’s, I mean, I think that’s really nice in a paper. I don’t like it when you have a slightly convoluted title and you’re trying to work out in a show, read, this is this relevant. It really tells you exactly what they’re, what they’re looking at.

[00:09:30] David: I was strongly motivated to read this paper by that title

[00:09:33] Sophie: It had great pictures.

[00:09:34] David: It did have

[00:09:35] Sophie: Had great P you know, and I love, you know, cause it’s, this is quite a, sort of like a physicsy paper. So basically what happens David’s we’ve got geckos. And we know that geckos can use their tails to do things clever like when they’re in mid-air they can kind of maneuver and it will stop them falling from trees and all these other things.

[00:09:52] But it turns out that sometimes geckos, they need to jump from somewhere to somewhere else. They know it’s not going to be a good. They have no choice, but [00:10:00] truly, literally face plant into the tree. And then it turns out that their tails provide this very stabilizing mechanism. So once they face plant, they don’t keel over, land on, I don’t know, the forest floor and then get eaten by a predator.

[00:10:12] It’s sort of, it means they can face plant and then stick to this kind of vertical wall.

[00:10:16] David: Yeah. So they basically, they face plant into the tree their body then kind of lands on the tree, the top half of their body kind of flies backwards.

[00:10:26] Sophie: if you think about, like, if you hit your head on the, on a wall where you kind of, your head sort of rich, you know, it’s a whiplash kind of effect. You had ricochets backwards, so they do the same thing, but it means their little front feet come off the

[00:10:36] David: The low front feet come off. So they bend back at this amazing angle of more than a hundred degrees and then flop back the ways making, well, I can only describe and hope is a

[00:10:46] Sophie: Yeah, it’s

[00:10:47] David: sound.

[00:10:47] Sophie: got to be right. Or maybe for like the slightly chunkier ones. It’s more of like a, in the second, just like a pancake. Like if you throw a pancake at a wall, that sound.

[00:10:56] is what I’m imagining. Yeah.

[00:10:58] David: So basically this is the [00:11:00] first time this has been described. So apparently this is not the preferred landing. Like you say, this is not how they would choose to land because this is what they do. If they’re not in an equilibrium Glade. And I’m guessing an equilibrium Glade is where you glide far enough.

[00:11:14] That you kind of reach a terminal velocity and you’re gliding at constant speed. And that means you’re all stable. So you can kind of maneuver and land nicely if you so choose. But these jumps that they’ve observed are short jumps, where they can’t reach equilibrium, but this provides them a means of not falling to the death as you say,

[00:11:32] Sophie: Yeah. And so this has got, and as I said, this is like a physicy technical paper, and this is why I appreciated all the pictures. And I thought it was like, it was quite lovely. So as you said, it’s the first time they’ve documented this. So they looked at it mathematically so very quickly or that they just analyze the, trajectories and mechanics of these fallen geckos.

[00:11:46] So basically they had like a high speed camera. Dave you’re excited. Tell

[00:11:50] David: I am excited that they, I was like, cause they, they weren’t just like, they didn’t just go into the forest and look for geckos and then wait for them to jump. They put them on a platform that was like how to tree [00:12:00] nearby. That was kind of an inconvenient distance and conveniently short jump away.

[00:12:05] Um, and then just waited for them to jump and yeah. Then film them with these cameras, which I thought was great.

[00:12:09] Sophie: Yeah. And that’s great. So they film them and then they literally, so yeah, they basically analyze the trajectories and the mechanics of the falling geckos and all, I just had a quick look at the maths. Basically, they just like resolved all the forces. Cause you know, the whole idea is that you got a gecko jumping in, you have forces due to gravity. You’ve got this like rotational force, you got to the force of the tree when it hits it, they just resolved or the forces. And they came up with an equation for the foot force expressed sort of as centripetal and angular acceleration terms. And so they did that and the reason they did it mathematically was just to make sure that it’s kind of what those things physically kind of made sense mathematically, which like you assume it should, because it happened in the reality in a world where we created mass to mimic our anyway, and then they made a soft robot day.

[00:12:51] That’s really what I want to

[00:12:52] David: Yeah. They were just like, oh, let’s just make a robot. So I was thinking about this, like I was like, initially I was like, yeah. So we’ll just make a robot. And I was like, that’s really impressive. And that’s really cool. And [00:13:00] I think it still is really impressive and really cool. But actually this is probably the best way to test their model because otherwise to test experimentally, you’d have to like make a fake forest.

[00:13:11] And cover it, enforced transducers and then insight geckos to jump between the trees and while filming them.. It would actually be probably about as difficult as building a robot.

[00:13:20] Sophie: Yeah. and then what I loved about this is like, the robot is like, it’s very simple, elegant, or It looks like a gecko. They’ve made it to kind of look like a robo gecko, if you will.

[00:13:29] David: It looks like a mega man villain. Did you ever

[00:13:31] Sophie: Ah, I didn’t, but like, yes, it really does look like a mega Man villain

[00:13:35] David: Yeah. Cool, man.

[00:13:36] Sophie: but then I really like, so they built is like 3d printed software robot that resembled a gecko.

[00:13:40] And on there was Velcro on its feet. So they would sort of stick upon contact and then they added like a mechanism to the tail that meant it kind of, it mimicked to that mechanism of like, sort of the front legs falling off on the tail and the legs kind of like snapping into the tree, you know what I mean?

[00:13:55] The Yeah we all know what I mean, I’ve done a really good job with words here. Um,[00:14:00] communicating like a pro, but I really liked Dave that they launched it into the wall with a catapult. So they feel, I was just like, okay. I feel like it’s like, we built this 3d printed, soft robot, like gecko would, they could Velcro on the things.

[00:14:15] And then we just hurled it at freaking wall.

[00:14:18] David: I wish more scientific enterprises ended in that way. Like, we’ve done it. We’ve done a lot of work. We’ve been working for 15 years on this research in geckos. And the end result of that is this robot, which is quite sophisticated. Let’s fire it up the wall. Shall we.

[00:14:33] Sophie: Yeah, let’s just shoot it at the wall. And so, yeah, cause what they

[00:14:36] David: Preferably from a cannon.

[00:14:38] Sophie: for, can you imagine it with the cat and then just like, we couldn’t afford the gunpowder, it wasn’t in our grant. Um, but yeah, So,

[00:14:45] I think, cause the idea was in nature, so sort of based on their analyzed videos or I don’t know if they came from their analyze videos or just from other data, but they reckon that 80% of geckos with tails will successfully land on their vertical surface without falling.[00:15:00]

[00:15:00] The tail is ones that tend to form more. So what they basically did is they created their, um, their robo gecko and they did a tail and tail-less experiments and also different length tales. And what they found was in their trials, 55% of the trials involving the tailed robot, they were able to land successfully and 15% of no tail robots were able to land successfully.

[00:15:24] And so that’s, I mean, that’s good. That kind of mimics what they were seeing in the real world, more of the tail ones were successful. And the no tail ones were pretty rubbish at not falling off their tree. Um, and then they did something, they looked at the length of the tails and they found that robots were tales of only half a length of the head and body combined were nearly as successful as those with tales equal to the snout vent length.

[00:15:49] The snout vent length is the length from the tip of the snout to the most posterior opening of the cloacal slit, which is known as I know, isn’t it just the vent. So basically what they found is [00:16:00] like, if there’s no tail, that’s a problem. and then you can get to kind of like a short tail length that is as effective as like a long tail.

[00:16:06] And once you hit that, you don’t sort of need a longer tail. You just need like a bit of it.

[00:16:11] David: so it’s not the length, it’s what you do with it.

[00:16:13] Sophie: Exactly. It’s not the length. It’s the way you use it. My dear gecko friends.

[00:16:18] David: A Strong advocate for that sort of thinking.

[00:16:21] Sophie: So yeah, this was really cool. They did some like nice analysis. They made a soft robot and then it turns out that, you know, geckos have evolved this like very clever way of making it look like they didn’t mess up when they literally just ran like face first into a tree.

[00:16:34] David: Not their preferred method of transportation, but one for which they are equipped to deal.

Memory Transfer

[00:16:38] David: from failing to avoid trees, to learning, to avoid bacteria. It turns out that the tiny nematode worm C elegans

[00:16:59] Sophie: beautiful name.

[00:16:59] David: [00:17:00] Yeah. So this is a tiny worm and it eats bacteria. Right?

[00:17:04] Sophie: Yeah, as well do accidentally

[00:17:06] David: As we all

[00:17:06] Sophie: All day

[00:17:07] David: all do accidentally all the time, but they eat bacteria because they find bacteria yummy. But sometimes when the bacterium particular bacterium, they get sick instead of getting nourished. Right.

[00:17:16] Sophie: which is, I mean, that’s not what you want.

[00:17:18] David: No, that’s not what you want. So after that happens, they’ll avoid that particular bacteria, which makes sense.

[00:17:24] So there are two weird things that happened to see Elegans after this that often described in this quite complicated paper. One is that their offspring will avoid the same pathogen, which is weird because it suggests that somehow they’re able to teach their offspring when they’re one millimeter long worms.

[00:17:41] And the other weird thing, which is what’s described in this paper is that naive worms, which is to say worms that have never encountered that bacterium will avoid the pathogen if they come into contact with the previously infected worm. So how the hell is the world gang out about this bacteria

[00:17:58] Sophie: So, this is

[00:17:59] okay, this is [00:18:00] my take on this because Dave I’m gonna come clean. This was over my head in so many ways. I did my darnedest, but Okay.

[00:18:07] In a nutshell, this is what I’ve understood. If I teach a worm to like, I don’t know, juggle, let’s say I’ve taught it to juggle a fish. Then all I need to do is kill that worm, crush it up, feed it to another worm. And now that other worm knows how to Fish. Correct?

[00:18:24] David: That’s basically what’s happened. So this is a mechanism of teaching worms so, so first the offspring. So this is what was already known, apparently. The offspring. So basically, what this group have shown previously is that when the worm eats the bad bacterium, it absorbs a piece of its RNA.

[00:18:40] Now RNA is usually the first stage in protein production, right? So, you know, you’ve got DNA strands. And then when you, what DNA is for is making proteins, proteins are what make up, you know, all of your functions, your hemoglobin and your collagen and all your bits, all your functional proteins are things that do things in your body.

[00:18:58] So [00:19:00] RNA is the intermediate. So from DNA, you make RNA and then from RNA, you translate that into protein. And that’s basically what genetics is for

[00:19:08] Sophie: Great.

[00:19:08] David: But here something weird is happening, which is that the worm is taking up some bacterial RNA. And my understanding is it’s acting on its own genetic code and its germ cells, which will be like its reproductive cells basically.

[00:19:23] And that is changing the genetic code of these germ cells, such that when they produce offspring, the offspring’s nervous system works in a slightly different way, such that it’s programmed to now avoid this bacteria.

[00:19:35] Sophie: Interesting. So I just got a fact about this bacterium, Dave, just because obviously I said I had no idea what was going on. So I was like Sophie fun fact corner. So this particular bacterium is how do I say it to P air Eric, Eric? And Nossa.

[00:19:49] David: I’ve got PA 14, which is

[00:19:52] Sophie: Okay. Let’s say that that’s better than Aaron getting those at pier 14 is a multi-drug resistant pathogen recognized for [00:20:00] its ubiquity.

[00:20:01] It’s intrinsically advanced antibiotic resistance mechanisms and its association with serious illnesses. So like serious illnesses, such as hospital acquired infections, such as ventilator associated pneumonia and various sepsis syndrome. So this is like a proper little jerk. So no wonder these like tiny little roundworm dudes do not want to eat this bacteria.

[00:20:23] Cause he’s not your mate.

[00:20:26] David: It’s a proper badass is a microscopic bad-ass with a little microscopic Harley Davidson and a little microscopic leather jacket who you wouldn’t take home to your microscopic mum.

[00:20:34] Sophie: A hundred percent. Okay. So we’ve got now. Okay. So we’re at The stage where our babies can avoid.

[00:20:40] David: Yeah. The babies can avoid. So

[00:20:41] that’s, that’s one weird thing explained. So now the next weird thing is how naive worms that have never encountered this bacteria when they encounter previously infected worms can learn from those worms. So what the researchers say is that we find that one worm can learn to avoid the pathogenic bacteria.

[00:20:58] If we grind up [00:21:00] that worm or use the media the worms are swimming in and give that media or the crushed up worm lives to naive worms. Now that’s a very classical biology thing to do that

[00:21:10] Sophie: Okay.

[00:21:11] David: that proves that there’s something dissolved in the medium, like in the fluid surrounding the worm that is transmitting the signal.

[00:21:18] Sophie: Interesting.

[00:21:18] David: So what they found is that it’s by transmission of something called a retro transposon..

[00:21:24] so a retro transposon is described as a virus like thing, but it’s only, that’s a bit misleading. It’s only described it’s a virus like thing because it’s some genetic material in case in lipids. So in case then like a little thing, it’s not like a virus because a virus will go into the cell and change the genetic machinery, such that it turns out copies of itself forever.

[00:21:44] Retrotransposons don’t do that. But basically what retrotransposons do, retrotransposons enable the DNA to edit itself. Remember before we had DNA going into RNA and then protein here, we have a strand of [00:22:00] DNA, like a sequence of DNA that produces RNA and a protein,

[00:22:04] Sophie: Okay.

[00:22:05] David: but the protein actually acts on its own RNA.

[00:22:09] So, yeah. So, and what it does is it turns it back into DNA yeah. So this DNA sequence produces RNA and protein that turns that RNA back into DNA, which is then inserted back in the genetic code at different locations to where it was found originally.

[00:22:27] Sophie: Just sounds like magic a little bit, to be honest.

[00:22:29] David: It’s genetics often does. And big shout out to my friend Flash, who explained this to my panic self at 10 40 this morning.

[00:22:36] Sophie: Thanks, flash.

[00:22:37] David: Thanks Flash, um, friends, rugby player, and that rarest of breeds scientists who still in science, flash McPhee explained it to me on the phone. And so basically this retro transpose on could be transmitted between the worms and they found that this retro transpose on is encoded by a gene called Serra one.

[00:22:55] And not only did they find this, they found that Serra one was needed by [00:23:00] the host organism, that organism that’s producing this Retro transposon

[00:23:04] but it’s also seems to be needed by the organism that’s receiving the signal. So if either the worm, the naive worm or the infected worm, doesn’t have this genetic code.

[00:23:15] Then the transmission of the signal can’t happen. So somehow as the Serra one gene is responsible for mediating this communication.

[00:23:23] Sophie: So if you ate your crushed juggling worm, and either you or the crushed juggling worm doesn’t have this, then you can’t learn how to juggle.

[00:23:32] David: That’s right. So it seems to be involved in every stage of the process, the transmission, the change in the genetic code. So it seems to be involved in both the transmission of the signal and the receiving of the signal, basically,

[00:23:44] Sophie: Wow.

[00:23:45] David: which is weird. So basically this is what’s wild about this is it’s a means of communicating information between organisms that doesn’t involve any kind of.

[00:23:54] Sophie: Communicating.

[00:23:56] David: or behavioral thing. It just it’s direct transfer of [00:24:00] genetic information that changes behavior, which is weird.

[00:24:03] Sophie: That is weird. Yeah. Well, I’m glad you explained that Dave. Because I tried and I just, I didn’t know, but do you want to hear another fun fact.

[00:24:10] David: Please I’ll find other fun fact.

[00:24:12] Sophie: This is about C elegans this time, you know, so I looked at my bacteria. Now I’m looking at my roundworm. So C elegans made news when specimens were discovered to have survived this space shuttle Columbia disaster in February, 2003.

[00:24:27] And then it gets better. We’ve got more roundworms in space. Later in January, 2009 live sample of a C elegans from the University of Nottingham were announced to be spending two weeks on the international space station that October in a space research project to explore the effects of zero gravity on muscle development and physiology. Isn’t it nice. And then apparently descendants of the worms of the Colombia in 2003 were launched into space on endeavor for the STS 1, 3, 4 mission. Don’t know what that means, but apparently some of them survived. They [00:25:00] launched their kids into space and then other ones were doing experiments on a space station.

[00:25:04] So they’re very clever. Yeah,

[00:25:05] David: it’s a nice tribute to Columbia, I guess just, I

[00:25:08] Sophie: But, um, do. If I kill my enemies, I crushed them off and I eat them will I get their powers?

[00:25:16] David: If there’s one takeaway from this story, that is it.

[00:25:19] Sophie: Good. All right. We’ll um, we’ll talk after this, cause I think I’m going to need backup.


Cussing ducks

[00:25:32] Sophie: So Dave, apparently the Australian Musk duck, which let’s talk about its revolting name in a second is capable of imitating sounds, including human speech. We say that what we mean is at least two of them. And then anecdotally two more of these Musk ducks can talk like people, maybe a bit sometimes.

[00:25:54] David: Sophie. I thought this was going to be a puff piece and I loved it so much.

[00:25:59] Sophie: I [00:26:00] feel like he sort of was a puff piece, but I also really loved it.

[00:26:03] David: I loved it so much. It was published in the proceedings of the national academy of science B, which is a non-trivial place to be published as we pointed out, in the meeting when we were talking about it. so the Musk duck is an endemic Australian species, so it’s a bloody Aussie duck mate. and what we found is that this male duck called ripper.

[00:26:22] Sophie: ripper. the male Musk duck. Yeah.

[00:26:25] David: Bloody ripper, can speak like a person.

[00:26:28] Sophie: Can speak like a person. Yeah. So apparently male musk ducks, Dave, I learnt about male Musk ducks. Oh, like quickly Musk ducks. Do you know why they’re called musk duck??

[00:26:37] David: No.

[00:26:38] Sophie: It’s gross. So apparently a pungent musky odor that dissipates rapidly can be detected from dominant males, but not from all males and not from female.

[00:26:48] So basically like dominant males make a gross smell every so often.

[00:26:54] David: Nice.

[00:26:54] Sophie: And it is pungent. And then so apparently, male must ducks, uh, very promiscuous just in case [00:27:00] you’re wondering with dominant male was displaying at Lex to attract females that nest well away from them, a lack is an aggregation of male animals gathered to engage in competitive displays and courtship rituals.

[00:27:10] So this ultimately actually has to do with the courtship ritual. So apparently when, male Musk ducks, feeling a little bit sexy, they perform displays to attract females and worn off rivals. It’s the kind of three main things that I learned. So there are two non-vocal displays. There’s the paddle kick and the plunk kick, which

[00:27:29] I really enjoy, which is just when you kick the water in a very masculine display of masculinity.

[00:27:35] David: impressive.

[00:27:36] Sophie: Exactly. It’s like I see a man kick water, and I go, tell me more, mate. there’s a so-called whistlekick where the Duck’s feet hit the water accompanied by soft, low frequency sounds and louder whistles. And this is where we’re seeing. So basically.

[00:27:50] David: it’s worth mentioning just that the adult males have a large pendulous lobe hanging below the bill that can be flacid or turgid.

[00:27:57] Um,

[00:27:58] Sophie: about these ducks though. [00:28:00] I don’t want to talk about them anymore. really going to no shower, but yeah. So it’s in this whistle kick that apparently these you know, as I said, low frequency sounds and louder whistles, we can incorporate other sounds in these particular whistle kicks.

[00:28:13] And I think the interesting thing is here. we know that there are parrots. We know that there are other birds that are good at mimicking things that they hear. Whereas this has not been documented in ducks before. and so, yeah. Anyway, let’s get back to Ripper Dave. I feel like

[00:28:26] David: Ripper and the star. they describe his origins in the paper in a sense, almost like.

[00:28:30] Sophie: I love this whole, I almost read this whole paper. It was charming.

[00:28:34] David: such a bloody fairytale, so I’ll just, I’ll read it. Um,

[00:28:36] ripper was raised from a fresh egg source from East Gippsland of Victoria Australia in September, 1983. And was the only Musk duck present at the time of rearing. It was hatched under a foster Bantam hand and then raised and fed by hand without the foster hand.

[00:28:55] Sophie: yeah, I actually,

[00:28:56] David: He was raised.

[00:28:58] Sophie: I know, but I [00:29:00] think like bantams they used that a bit or they use bantams for hatching other people’s eggs a little bit. Isn’t that thing.

[00:29:05] Do

[00:29:05] David: they, is that a thing?

[00:29:07] Sophie: I dunno, maybe, but yeah, so, so I loved that. And then, so the whole idea is then we have recordings of ripper saying some ripper things.

[00:29:14] But what I really like is just the detail the recordings were made using a Sony Walkman professional cassette recorder and a Sennheiser MKH 8 1 6 in 1987, when ripper was four years old.

[00:29:27] David: I felt Sony Walkman. I was like, what is this? That’s exactly what I did. I read that sentence. I got the Sony Walkman. I was like, what was this made in like 1987? It was like, oh yeah, I’ve recorded it in 1987.

[00:29:37] Sophie: And then I was just like, oh, that’s when I was born. Ripper was older than me, if he was still alive. And I’m going to guess he might not be, does it say, I don’t know

[00:29:45] David: I don’t know if he’s still alive, so I don’t

[00:29:47] Sophie: wasn’t the point of the paper.

[00:29:48] David: might live for a long time. Some birds

[00:29:49] Sophie: Maybe, maybe thousands of years.

[00:29:51] David: maybe thousands upon thousands

[00:29:53] Sophie: Not thousands of years.

[00:29:54] So the whole idea was we have recordings of ripper and the recordings consist of three sequences [00:30:00] of repeated vocalizations, each containing a different type of vocal imitation, but then produced in that same sort of stereotype to repetitive structure as normal display sound. So the idea is his doing his normal whistle whistlekick, but then he’s incorporating some different sounds into there. And the different sounds that we have ripper incorporating where a slamming door, a slamming door followed by a speech like mumble and then the best one, which you will need to refer to.

[00:30:26] I’m sure I’m not still listened to this because it is great speech, like phrase that can be described as ” you bloody fool”. But no, L he cuts it off. He, he clips his L so it’s like you bloody foo kind of like That

[00:30:38] That best impersonation of a duck,

[00:30:40] David: you bloody fool. Yeah, that’s great.

[00:30:42] Sophie: You bloody fool. And I’m

[00:30:45] David: you spot? So, so the, the door that the ripper was impersonating was there was some details about the dooring question that are quite amazing. So this was a double hung spring door located between two and three meters from the sink in which Ripper was kept [00:31:00] in the first weeks after hatching.

[00:31:02] Sophie: That’s the whole idea. Right? So basically, like we have sounds that Ripper is imitating years later, that will literally produce that he heard at like a very early age.

[00:31:12] David: Yeah. So I found that amazing that there’s this early, early, early onset. And apparently they say in the paper, that’s consistent with how songbirds are primed to sing. Apparently there’s a kind of They go through this period that I think they call templating or there’s a template phase or something of that nature where it’s an early stage of development where they learn the things that they’re going to use to display basically.

[00:31:35] Sophie: And then so there, and it wasn’t just ripper. So apparently there was another second musk duck who was another male who was raised by a captive female with free access to a large pond at tidbit biller. And. So this was a recording in 2000. So, you know, not 1987. So this one, the recording used a Sony TCD, 10 pro dash recorder,

[00:31:56] the, it was a bit fancy and the duck has two to three years old at [00:32:00] the time of the recording.

[00:32:00] And apparently this particular duck didn’t speak, but it was reported to imitate a Pacific black duck that it could hear from its pond.

[00:32:08] David: Well, I guess it was speaking from the point of view of a Pacific black duck.

[00:32:11] Sophie: Yeah. Sorry. You’re right. It wasn’t, cussing in Australia.

[00:32:14] David: That was cussing in black duck.

[00:32:16] Sophie: Yeah. And then, and I don’t know if you read the paper, apparently there was two other there’s anecdotal evidence as well that this happens more often than we think. And so I quote from the paper we received the following note and they’ve got brackets B Macon’s, 2021 personal communication about a male must duck reared from an egg transferred to Penn’s Thorpe in Norfolk.

[00:32:37] The male was a wonderful mimic. When he was quite young, you could hear a lot of coughing and a snorting pony, which lived next door to him. He even tried an unpronounceable hello to the gardener. So that’s your duck number one. And then we’ve got another observation concerning a male Musk duck raised at SIM bridge Wildfell trust, which was at least two years of age when he was observed to produce an imitation of the [00:33:00] characteristic cough of his bird keeper, and also a squeak of a turnstile.

[00:33:05] David: Oh, wow.

[00:33:06] Sophie: Isn’t that cool. So these, yeah. So turns out that if you want a parrot, , but you’re not into parrots, get a musk duck but only a male one who’s showing courtship, but just be aware that he might stink.

[00:33:17] David: Well, I, yeah, so I wondered about this. I was like, what is it with this duck that the door is so frequently slammed on him and

[00:33:23] he’s being like, you know, treated in, you know, why is he being called a bloody Phil? And apparently these ducks are rarely bred in captivity because of the difficulty in managing their aggressive nature.

[00:33:33] And because they’re are prone to attacking other Walter fell, cause people don’t often have one duck, they often have many. Um, and apparently, PJ Fulligar, who was his keeper, um, was brought nearby to the cage when these recordings were actually made of ripper. because that was a really good way to enrage him and to displaying.

[00:33:51] so yeah, apparently he would come up to the narrow bank on the inside of the fence and scramble along, attacking in inverted commas, anyone on the outside, he called repeatedly and then dashed away [00:34:00] on the small patch of water, but then the pen. So apparently he was very human focused in his displays, which I guess means that. He either hates them or is interested in, you know, fornicating with them.

[00:34:11] Sophie: Oh, maybe because he was ripped away from all of his duck pals. Like they’re the only things he knows.

[00:34:16] David: He’s maybe just raging. He might just be rage

[00:34:18] Sophie: Well could just be writing, I guess, really the takeaway is don’t get pet musk duck is what I think I’ve just learned.

[00:34:23] David: I think so. I think we get, but if you do teach him to say some nice things,