Welcome to STEMology – Show Notes

Season 1, Episode 9

Aus vs FB, Wasps, Multi-bottom worms, redhead’s pain threshold and Yeast 2.0

In this episode Dr Sophie Calabretto and Dr David Farmer talk about…

In today’s episode of  STEMology, we’re going to talk to you about …

Australia takes the battle against Facebook up a notch by actually coming up with a viable alternative; Multi-bottom worms exist and are just really, really weird; redhead’s have a super power – they have a higher threshold to pain and should be revered (STEMology’s producer is a redhead and she’s making me write this); and wasps may not be as sexy as bees, but they have gotten a bad wrap and shouldn’t be as vilified. 

Aus vs FB

Facebook puts itself forward as a public space, but it’s really a private mall where uses are observed and manipulated for profit.

Multi-bottom worms are a thing

they describe it as having one regular normal worm head and multiple posterior ends

Redhead’s pain threshold

Which means that we need to rethink the way we design my pain treatment for redheaded people

Wasps aren’t all so bad

Apparently they’re unappreciated ecosystems, serving champions of the insect world

Yeast 2.0 with Hugh Goold, in promotion of Pint of Science

what we’re doing in yeast 2.0 is we’ve designed an organism at the DNA level based on yeast

More technical paper about Yeast 2.0

Thanks for helping out Hugh!

Check out Sophie, Dave & Hugh at the 2021 Pint of Science event!!

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

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

[00:00:04] David: [00:00:04] STEMology is a podcast sharing some of the interesting fun, and sometimes just patently bizarre news in science, technology, engineering, or maths.

[00:00:11] Your hosts are Dr. Sophie Callabretto and Dr. David Farmer

[00:00:15]Sophie: [00:00:15] On today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about Australia versus Facebook, wasps the jerks of the insect world, multi bottom worms,

[00:00:25]David: [00:00:25] Redheads pain thresholds, and Yeast 2.0.


[00:00:30]Sophie: [00:00:30] So, Dave, I waste my life on Facebook. What about you?

[00:00:34] David: [00:00:34] I waste my life on Facebook.

[00:00:36]Sophie: [00:00:36] But Facebook is gotten into trouble recently. We know that there’s been issues with sort of privacy, scandals, data breaches, as you know, Facebook is sort of, you know, want to project a little bit of hate speech from time to time and some violence inducing disinformation as well. But, uh, recently they got in hot water with the government when they tried to legislate some things.

[00:00:57] David: [00:00:57] Yes, we tried to, well, we tried to legislate some things. We tried to introduce the news media bargaining codes, which saw Facebook briefly ban news content, which seems like a big deal.

[00:01:07] Sophie: [00:01:07] Well, not only news content, right? They inadvertently blocked information in government pages like health and emergency services during a pandemic, which seems a little bit irresponsible. If I’m just going to put it slightly.

[00:01:18] David: [00:01:18] Absolute champions. So I think for, for that, and for many other reasons, the Australia Institute.  The center for responsible technology, they’ve published a report called the public square report wherein they basically propose. So for anyone who doesn’t know, cause I didn’t know the center for responsible technology is an initiative of the Australia Institute, which exists to give people agency and influence over the way network technology is rapidly changing our world by asking a simple question, what is good?

[00:01:46] Sophie: [00:01:46] Yeah. And that’s, I think that’s a great question to ask people. It’s very simple. I think if you ask complex questions to people, sometimes you get complex answers, but yeah, what is good, Dave?

[00:01:55] David: [00:01:55] So here, what they’re proposing is good is that we need a social media platform that is not within, or not exclusively within the private space. And basically they want to see social media more as public infrastructure, and they go further to suggest that the body that should do this is the ABC.

[00:02:14] Sophie: [00:02:14] Yeah, so we already have, you know, the ABC already has an extremely public profile. They already have reached, they already have influenced. They already. Sort of, uh, have a lot of the communities are based online anyway, and it would make more sense to use the ABC then building an entirely different network from scratch.

[00:02:30] But I just want to go back to this report because I think they make some really good points here. So there’s a, quote from Peter Lewis. Who’s the director of the Australia Institute center for responsible technology. And I think he sums up Facebook in such a lovely way. Says Facebook puts itself forward as a public space, but it’s really a private mall where uses are observed and manipulated for profit.

[00:02:50] I don’t think that’s a hundred percent yet. So you go on Facebook. And really, you know, we’ve talked about advertising and stuff. We’ve talked about third-party cookies before on this podcast, and that is like the King of third-party cookies. That’s the place where you go there. And then all of a sudden you’re being advertised things that you’ve already bought because you’re just being watched constantly.

[00:03:09] But then I think, yeah, probably one of the bigger issues I don’t like, you know, people targeting me because I’m an easily manipulated consumer. It’s more the hate speech and just, you know, those, the loudest voices, the ones that often just get echoed a lot on Facebook.

[00:03:22] And there’s just so much hateful diatribe. It’s probably important that we start looking at regulating it in a way. And I’d love to see the ABC do that.

[00:03:31]David: [00:03:31] I would love to be able to engage with people, not on Facebook. Like, I

[00:03:34] would love to every time, every time I go on it and because you know, you and I are science communicators, we need to reach people where they are, which means we have to engage with these platforms.

[00:03:41] And if there was a way that didn’t involve going on a platform like Facebook, with all of the negative things that you’ve described, that would be tremendous. And as you say, the reach is really important because there have been other attempts to establish a social media platform, which is a bit more ethical.

[00:03:57] I don’t know if you’ve tried any of these Ello, diaspora, next door at WT social. I’ve never been on any of these

[00:04:04] Sophie: [00:04:04] P I I heard of two of them, but I’ve never been on any of them.

[00:04:09] David: [00:04:09] Perhaps you, dear listener are on these platforms. If you are, then please tell us all about them. But yeah. So what you say is the yeah. The reach and also the trustworthiness.

[00:04:18] So people trust the ABC, they trust it as a news source. And they also make a really interesting point towards the article which is, that if you have a platform established by someone like the ABC, you can then preferentially grant access to new sources with new sources,  news sources, which are accredited in some ways.

[00:04:40] So for example, news Corp and other news organizations, who are also kind of being. They’re also kind of fighting Facebook. They’re fighting Facebook for news revenues because Facebook basically uses their content without paying for it, which is what the media bargaining agreement was all about.

[00:04:57] So basically they say that the trustworthiness of the ABC and the fact that you could build the trust into the platform means you might be able to bring the ABC and commercial media back onto the same wavelength again, by uniting them against this common foe.

[00:05:10] Sophie: [00:05:10] Yeah. So, cause what I didn’t realize is this whole legislation came about after an investigation by the ACCC. So that’s the Australian competition and consumer commission. And they were basically looking at online advertising dominance and it showed that in 2018 for every a hundred Australian dollars spent by Australian advertisers, 49 went to Google and 24 went to Facebook. So that’s like, that’s like, that’s most of that money. That’s like three quarters of that money have gone to two of these giant companies. And it is really interesting that, you know, Facebook’s response was just to kind of shut everything down when it was told that we want to regulate the way that you do this, which doesn’t sound like, I guess a super mature response, but yeah.

[00:05:52] So I think we just need to, let’s give the ABC some money so they can set this thing up so he can get off Facebook

[00:05:58] and have a proper dialogue. Yeah, let’s do it. Who do we talk to at the government? If anyone knows, send us an email at STEMology and we’ll start lobbying. No worries.

Multi bottomed worms

[00:06:15] Dave. I know that you’re into butts. we talk about butts and farts a lot and poop on this show

[00:06:21] David: [00:06:21] we do. That’s true.

[00:06:23] Sophie: [00:06:23] And apparently they’ve done some new research. This has come it’s an international research team led by the universities of Girtingham and Madrid.

[00:06:31] And there are apparently, there are two types of these worms in the world. But we’re talking about the  multi-core data. And I want you to tell us what that means in a sec, Dave, but apparently that is a marine worm found in Darwin that lives in the sort of internal canal of a sponge, but it has one head and multiple bottoms.

[00:06:51] David: [00:06:51] It’s got multiple bums. It’s a worm with multiple bums. It branches. And they describe it as having one regular normal worm head and multiple posterior ends. And so every so often within this sponge, within the canals of this sponge, it seems too apparently, randomly they say or with no discernible pattern for my branch, and it just develops a new bum that goes off in a completely new direction to the original bum. And then those bums grow bums and then those bums grow bums and so on and so on and so on.

[00:07:23] Sophie: [00:07:23] It’s just a bum-fest. Right. And not only does it have a normal head, so it’s got two eyes, three antenee, a pair of palps, you know, so those are those kinds of like elongated appendages that spiders and stuff have to poke things. And it’s got, it’s got to do like the taste and touch was like, yeah. As you said, like genuinely a regular worm head, and then it’s just got this like labyrinth of, of bums attached to bombs attached to bums. So apparently what they’ve done, we already knew that these things existed, but I think so from my understanding, these are very brittle animals and they can break apart easily when you want to go and look at them. So what they’ve actually managed to do for the first time ever is described the internal anatomy of this weird animal, because yeah, they knew about it.

[00:08:04] So apparently this one was discovered in 2006, up around Darwin and they usually apparently are at 20 meters below sea level is where these ones are. It’s a second spaces of polychaete worm that has one head and I quote multiple anuses. So in 1879 was when they discovered the first kind of this worm, but that’s a deep sea one. So apparently, you know, they’re like hundreds of meters in depth and that is the deep sea Cylus or Mosa. whose name isn’t quite as funny because Dave, what does Rama Cylus multi-core data mean in Latin?

[00:08:38] David: [00:08:38] Well, it, it means multi tailed worm, but it really means multi bum. I mean, it basically means multiple bum. Multiple data is multi ended. It’s it’s multi bummed. But multi bummed is literally the multi bummed worm. Whereas Cylus mimosa is branched worm

[00:08:53] which

[00:08:54] Sophie: [00:08:54] So that’s, that’s, that’s not as

[00:08:56] David: [00:08:56] Um, but you’re right. When w when you look at why they did this study, you’re absolutely right.

[00:09:00] So they, they say they did this study because how the distinctive morphology relates to internal anatomy has never been studied in these worms beyond observing that the whole body has an interconnected digestive tract with a high number of ani. And I being the plural of anus.

[00:09:14] Which I enjoyed very much. Thank you.

[00:09:16] Sophie: [00:09:16] Everyone used that in a sentence at least three times today. Ani

[00:09:20] David: [00:09:20] So for this analysis, they combined a whole bunch of fancy techniques, histology, which is where you look at things under a microscope, electronic optical microscope, which is where you use electrons instead of light, so that you can look at even tinier things, immunohistochemistry, which is where you look at particular proteins inside the cells, confocal, laser microscopy, which is fancy, fancy, fancy microscopy, and x-ray computers. micro tomography, which is 3d scanning basically. And they basically looked inside. They constructed three dimensional images of the inside of these worms for the first time.

[00:09:51]Sophie: [00:09:51] Yeah. And so, and they found a couple of cool things, right? So one of them was, I really liked these muscular bridges. So every time as you said before, we have a but, we have lots of buts and then these worms just split and they grow more butts. And what they found is that the digestive tract of this worm, that also splits and it runs through the new branches and the way that it was able to do this was this with this new anatomical structure that they discovered, which they called a muscular bridge, which is basically it crosses between the different organs whenever the body forms a new branch. But that also shows That basically that bifurcation process or when the worm is splitting into.

[00:10:28] So when I say split, sorry, it’s growing more branches. We’re not cutting ourselves up in splitting, it’s growing more branches, but that happens once the worms are adults and throughout their lives. It doesn’t happen in the early stages of life.

[00:10:39] Basically.

[00:10:39] David: [00:10:39] Yeah. Yeah. And they say that the, all of the internal organs themselves split to form a new branch. So it’s not like you but off a new branch and then you develop new organs in there, all of the organs divide. So it’s  a dividing process, as opposed to branching process, everything divides and you form this entirely new.

[00:10:57] Bum. And can we now talk, can we talk about stolons

[00:11:01] Sophie: [00:11:01] uh, I learned a lot about stolons. Yes.

[00:11:03] Let’s talk stolons

[00:11:05] David: [00:11:05] goodness. So listeners, so basically not only do these worms have  multiple bums, but these bums sometimes form into these things called stolons, which are the reproductive units of this worm.  That basically have reproductive organs in them gametes, but they also have their own little brain that enables the stolon, the bum of the worm to detach and then go and find a mate

[00:11:28] Sophie: [00:11:28] and eyes. So it

[00:11:30] David: [00:11:30] and eyes.

[00:11:31] Sophie: [00:11:31] and they have eyes, but they have no mouth. And apparently the gut part of the stolon, end that gets absorbed into the animal, the muscles rearranged to facilitate swimming. So that then when they go to reproduce that stolon, like basically like. Pinches off. And as you said, like it’s got either like eggs or sperm or whatever in it, because it has a brain and eyes and little muscles that mean it can swim.

[00:11:56] It can swim out into the ocean, to the surface. And then basically that’s where it releases the eggs or the sperm, and then they can breed. And then, so, but then you’ve got your, just like actual worm hanging out in the sponge. It doesn’t need to do anything. So it just releases these stolons and then they breed.

[00:12:15] And then you make more worms while you’re hanging out in your sponge, but they have eyes and a brain, but no mouth.

[00:12:21]David: [00:12:21] It’s just staggering. I just, I love this. I love this article. I love this. I love these worms.  This is just a pure anatomical study. The study was published in the journal of morphology, or as I prefer to call it the journal of what shape things are, um, it’s just tremendous. The multi bummed swimming willie worm.

[00:12:45] Sophie: [00:12:45] But also quickly just to wrap up with our multi bum, swimming, Willy worm. The other thing I really liked is that when they were looking at the intestine and they concluded that it’s functional, but they’ve never found any trace of food inside the intestine. So it’s this whole thing that. Everything splits as a digestive tract throughout this entire worm with all of its butts, which is important, right?

[00:13:06] Because obviously the butt has to be connected to something but they’ve never found any food in any part of the digestive tract.

[00:13:14] David: [00:13:14] I read that. And they also, and the, the head is always at the basil, which is the base of the sponge that the head tends to be at the base of the sponge. And then the bums kind of go up and out the way towards the periphery, that side of the sponge. So what does it even eating there?

[00:13:27] If it is eating something and. I just, I don’t even.

[00:13:32] Sophie: [00:13:32] still a mystery. So it’s still a mystery. How can they feed their huge brunch bodies? And then the other questions raised by this study were how blood circulation and nerve impulses are affected by the branches of the body. So we don’t know everything about these Whatever you, whatever new name you came up for this worm that I’ve forgotten already,

[00:13:48]David: [00:13:48] The multi bottoms, swimming, Willy worm

[00:13:50] Sophie: [00:13:50] swimming really well. That was

[00:13:52] David: [00:13:52] swimming. Willy’s sponge dweller.

[00:13:55] Sophie: [00:13:55] Nature’s messed up, Dave.



[00:13:58] David: [00:14:06] so this next article, Sophie is relevant to lots of people associate with the podcast. We’ve got a red-headed producer and also 13% of the population of Scotland is red haired.

[00:14:18] Sophie: [00:14:18] I thought you had to tell me the, your red head and I’m like, I don’t believe it. Dave, you look very much like a brunette to me and always

[00:14:23] David: [00:14:23] No, I’m not, but 13% of the population in Scotland have red hair apparently and 40% carry the recessive red head, which I might well do and not know it.

[00:14:31] Sophie: [00:14:31] Oh, you could be passing on that red headedness

[00:14:34]through no fault of your own.

[00:14:36] David: [00:14:36] where I to reproduce in some way.

[00:14:38] Sophie: [00:14:38] Yeah.

[00:14:39] David: [00:14:39] So this is some work out of Massachusetts general hospital. So people, you might not realize this, but redheads don’t just have red heads and they’re not just, you know, worthy of our scorn and they don’t just  burn very easily. They also apparently have an enhanced tolerance to pain compared to you or I.

[00:14:55]Sophie: [00:14:55] So apparently Dave, so we’ve got people with red hair and then also other species of animals with red fur.

[00:15:02] So the pigment producing cells called, I learned a lot about pigments and things in skins this week. I didn’t know any of this. So we’ve got mulatto sites which contained various form of a receptor called the melanocortin one receptor. And this is the receptor that causes melanocytes to switch from generating yellow and red melanin  pigment to producing the Brown, black melanin pigment. And it’s the inability of red head individuals to tan or darken their skin pigment is traced to inactive variants of this particular receptor. So if you have an inactive variant of this receptor, you’re going to be red-headed rather than Brown or black head.

[00:15:43] Correct.

[00:15:44] David: [00:15:44] Yes, that’s my understanding. So, and then if you’re exposed to the sun, you secrete melanin and activates the Mylanta sites and you tan to protect yourself from the sun.

[00:15:51]Sophie: [00:15:51] So this study that they did, so they got redhead mice, which I find really exciting. Every time they do something to a mouse, I find it quite exciting. So, you know, they’ve got redhead mouse, mice who contain that variant that lacks the melanocortin one receptor.

[00:16:07] They find that as you said, they exhibit higher pain thresholds. And that’s because that loss of function in that receptor means that they secrete lower levels of a molecule called POMC or pro OPO Malana Corton. And that molecule actually gets cut into different hormones. Right? So one that is one that sensitizes pain and ones that block pain.

[00:16:31]So the lower levels of this would sort of cancel each other out. But what happens is that your body also produces additional non-millennial site related factors that activate opioid receptors. And so therefore the net effect of lower levels of the Malana site related hormones is more opioid signals, which elevates the threshold of pain.

[00:16:54] That was a lot. So basically they have, because of this. Receptors that is inactive in a certain way. It means that you produce lower levels of a certain molecule that molecule splits into other things because of the lower level, your body produces more of another thing, which means that you have elevated thresholds for like base level pain.

[00:17:12]David: [00:17:12] Yeah, that’s right. And one of the really cool things that they show it, I think, and it’s, it’s a, it’s a really complicated paper involving multiple different knockout mice, and a lot of pharmacology. It was very

[00:17:22] Sophie: [00:17:22] when I looked at that. Yeah, it was

[00:17:23] David: [00:17:23] Yeah. It was. It’s very complicated, but what’s cool about it. So yeah, I think that’s right that  the Malana sites are lacking the receptors, so they secrete less palm C. So they have less of these hormones. So the Malana sites are located in the bottom layer of the skin epidermis. So they’re there in your skin, the bottom layer. But these pain pathways are in your brain. So they did some nice pharmacology to show that these hormones that are circulating are acting within the brain.

[00:17:52] So you’ve got something happening in your skin. Which is influencing the way that pain is happening in your brain. So the way that pain is perceived in your brain, which is cool.

[00:18:00] Sophie: [00:18:00] Yeah, that is very cool.  Because of this then elevated other opioid receptor. It means that red heads have an increased sensitivity to opioid analgesics as well. Which means that we need to rethink the way we design my pain treatment for redheaded people.

[00:18:21] David: [00:18:21] Yeah, so that, well, there’s two cool things about this one is that yeah. Whenever you notice these things, then you can treat people who have exhibit particular characteristics, like say red headedness better. But also because they have that altered sensitivity to pain. It means when people go and investigate it in a systematic way, like these researchers cleverly have done here, we learned something about the way pain works, generally speaking.

[00:18:45] which is cool because like, Morphine is like a good painkiller. I understand. I also understand it makes you feel fantastic.  But like it’s got a lot of side effects and if we understood pain better, we’d be able to produce better medicines than morphine. So like, it would be really good to have better medicines for pain and more specific medicines for pain that don’t, for example, make you feel fantastic, are highly dependent and cause gut stasis and all the, and rapid adaptation and all the things that are bad about morphine.

[00:19:12] Sophie: [00:19:12] you just want the

[00:19:12] one that kills the pain without the rest of it.

[00:19:15] David: [00:19:15] Exactly. the really good thing about doing this kind of research is that it’s likely to lead to a better understanding of pain in general, which is good for everybody.

[00:19:23] Sophie: [00:19:23] And then just very quickly I learned, I just went on a little bit of a, what other superpowers do redheads have. And I just want to report one thing. So, and this is it’s related to this And I forgot what it’s called the millennia court and one receptor. So apparently there was research done in 2005 that say because of that lack of functionality in that receptor  it may cause, this is still a may, the human temperature detecting gene to become over-activated.

[00:19:48] So in general, what they find is that red headed people are more sensitive to thermal extremes. So they feel hot, hotter, and cold cold. And that has to do with this exact same receptive, which I thought was, I don’t know if that’s really a superpower, but I went, Oh, that’s interesting.

[00:20:02] David: [00:20:02] It’s a super power in the sense that, well, my friend Matthew May be a superpower cause he doesn’t enjoy going to the beach

[00:20:07] Sophie: [00:20:07] Oh, Matthew’s got a

[00:20:09] load of

[00:20:10] David: [00:20:10] this reason. Yeah.  But I didn’t realize it was because he’s a superhero and now I do

[00:20:14] Sophie: [00:20:14] Yeah. So you let him know that. No, don’t let him know that we’ll go straight to his head.

[00:20:18] Okay.

[00:20:19] David: [00:20:19] his big, big red head.


[00:20:33] Sophie: [00:20:33] So Dave, what’s the jerks true or false.

[00:20:36] David: [00:20:36] Well, apparently, apparently not, apparently not. Apparently they’re unappreciated ecosystems, serving champions of the insect world. According to UCL and university of East Anglia researchers.

[00:20:49] Sophie: [00:20:49] Yeah. So apparently we need to highly value wasps in the way that we value all the insects like bees, because they have great roles as predators, pollinators, and more in the ecosystem. And they’re great. And we should all be very impressed because they went and looked okay. It’s there’s real science here, Dave, they compiled evidence from over 500 academic papers to review how roughly 33,000 species of stinging wasps contribute to that ecosystem and how then that can benefit the economy, human health and society. Okay, look, I disagree with this. The hatred of waspsis largely due to widespread ignorance about the role of wasps in the ecosystem and how they can be beneficial.

[00:21:28] I know they’re beneficial. I still think they’re jerks.

[00:21:30]David: [00:21:30] That’s fair. And specifically, we’re talking about aculeate wasps here, right? So you mentioned the stinging wasps. So I didn’t realize this but aculeate wasps are stinging bearing wasps, and the word aculeate means sting bearing and or needle, which is also where we get the word acumen for someone who’s sharp, which I, which

[00:21:46] Sophie: [00:21:46] Oh, that’s good.

[00:21:49] David: [00:21:49] Yeah. So this is stinging wasps as opposed to parasitoid wasps, which are the ones that like impregnate other animals and which don’t have a sting. They have an overpossitor

[00:21:58] Sophie: [00:21:58] Oh,

[00:22:00]David: [00:22:00] So here, they’re looking at the 33,000 species of wasps, which are stinging wasps and yeah, you’re right. They say that the disservices are due to ignorance. The negative perception of these wasps due to ignorance of their beneficial things.

[00:22:12] But they also say there’s an imbalance in the scientific research with regards to wasps. So apparently the majority of the research done into wasps is into their damaging effects as an invasive species. And there’s a dearth of research into their roles as pollinators and apex predators that they insect worlds within their native range, where they would exist, you know, normally.

[00:22:39] Sophie: [00:22:39] Yeah, so speaking of them as predators, because they’re sort of one of these top predators, it means that, you know, they are predators for many, many insects. And what we hate when we try to grow crops and things are insects that eat our crops. So, you know, wasps can be used as this kind of bio control to protect crops.

[00:22:54] And apparently this whole industry is worth at least 416 billion us dollars worldwide every year, which is a lot of

[00:23:01] money. Yeah.  The idea is that you can use wasps to regulate populations of different kinds of arthropods, like aphids and caterpillars and all those other jerks who damage crops. And they’ve even done a recent study where they found that they can use  to manage pests on 2 high value crops in Brazil, maze and sugar cane. And they did that quite successfully for my understanding . So I guess that’s good. So I guess that’s a tick in the book for wasp. I’ll be a little bit nicer from now on.

[00:23:26] Yeah. And actually in Australia they trialled something on Christmas Island, so it was parts of Australia and Latrobe university and they were trying to control the invasive yellow crazy ant. And I looked that up and that is the name of the ant, there wasn’t just someone’s description of the ant but, um, but they used what micro wasps to control them.

[00:23:45] And they’re these wasps that don’t sting. So they’re the wasps that I like more anyway. Cause they don’t mess with me. Yeah.

[00:23:51]David: [00:23:51] So another way that wasps are good apparently is as food. So apparently wasp larvae are a viable source of protein. I didn’t realize this, but apparently at least 2 billion people across the globe consume insect protein as part of their diet.  Which is a lot,

[00:24:09] Sophie: [00:24:09] Yeah, that is a lot.

[00:24:10] David: [00:24:10] And apparently also apparently several wasps general produce honey, which I didn’t realize this, which is a valued food source across Latin America, but it’s unlikely to be commercially available on a large scale because the honey output of a typical wast pipe tends to be far smaller than that, of the European honeybee, which is where we get most of our honey.

[00:24:28] Sophie: [00:24:28] Yeah. And then they also wasps the apparently Epic pollinators as well. So they had evidence of wasps visiting 960 plant species, including there’s 164 species of plant that are completely dependent on wasps for pollination, which is also very big. So I feel like these are all ticks in the  boxes for the wasps.

[00:24:48]And even there are some plants, like there’s one kind of orchid that is evolved to attract wasps and what it’s evolved in adaptation, which means that its appearance mimics the backend of a female wasp. So it’s evolved to look like the back end of a female wasp to attract the wasps to pollinate it, which is, I mean, uh, creepy, but, uh, effective, I would guess.

[00:25:10] David: [00:25:10] Creepy but effective. Yes. I love that they chose to describe it as the backend of a wasp. We have wasps as the makers of medicine. So apparently the venom of solitary and social wasps has anti-microbial properties because solitary, wasps capture animals and paralyze it and then take it back for their developing offspring.

[00:25:28] So basically to make sure that this per animal doesn’t get eaten away by bacteria, their venom has anti-microbial properties, which stop it from being eaten by the bacteria. So it stays alive long enough for it to be eaten by the larvae.

[00:25:42] Sophie: [00:25:42] And then in 2015, there was a lab study on mice, which I love, where they used yellow jacket, wasp venom. And in the yellow jacket wasp venom there’s a toxin, which they called MP one and they found that it would target and destroy cancer cells, but it had to do with something on this particular cancer.

[00:25:59] So this would target the cancer cell and not any of the other cells. And then they said, well, obviously we need to go further with that. And I was only 2015. So that sounds like there might still be promise. I believe it takes a long time to do these kinds of lab studies as well. But Dave, I want to get negative for one second.

[00:26:15] Cause you can tell I’ve just been itching to tell you all my feelings about wasps.

[00:26:19] David: [00:26:19] go. Let’s go negative. And then I’ll tell you one more thing that might save wasps for you.

[00:26:23] Sophie: [00:26:23] Yeah. So 2017, they did a study in Australia and they found of all Australia’s venomous animals, bees, and wasps pose the biggest threat to public health causing more than twice the number of admissions to hospital as snake bites and the same number of deaths. So what they did is a national analysis of 13 years of admissions data, specifically about bites and stings from venomous creatures. And they found that just over one third of almost the 42,000 admissions were caused by bees and wasps, compared with 30% from spiders and 15% from snakes. But then it’s the fact that we get the same number of snake. So I guess that just tells us that the snakes are worse than wasps.

[00:27:03] David: [00:27:03] Point of order. Do you have to be allergic to the bee or wasps stings in order for it to be a life threatening condition?

[00:27:09] Sophie: [00:27:09] You probably, or like, you know, in on, I was gonna say in my girl where Macaulay Culkin gets like destroyed by bees but he

[00:27:15] was allergic, but I reckon if anyone got stung by that number of bees, that’d be in like fair trouble.

[00:27:21] David: [00:27:21] So, yeah, but that’s what I’m wondering is, are the bee stings in wasps things and a danger to public health, because there’s an increased prevalence of allergy,

[00:27:28] Sophie: [00:27:28] look, I would say that’s probably it, but I, I, I don’t like

[00:27:32] wasps

[00:27:32] David: [00:27:32] themselves. Okay. Let me, let me, okay. Do you want it? Do you have more

[00:27:35] Sophie: [00:27:35] but for me, no, no, that’s it. And I just flip it for me. I was just like what? We’ve got studies saying that these are problems, that all that they’re filling up our emergency rooms, these wasps they’re wasting our time.

[00:27:45] David: [00:27:45] But they’re also filling up our pubs. Sophie. Jen, do you know

[00:27:48] Sophie: [00:27:48] no.

[00:27:49] no.

[00:27:50] David: [00:27:50] so Sophie, I know that you like wine. I know that you like wine very much.

[00:27:54] Sophie: [00:27:54] like wine day.

[00:27:56] David: [00:27:56] social wasps provide safe overwintering havens for wine producers yeast. So the yeast cells survive in the intestines of overwintering Queens. And then it’s transferred to workers and future friendtors Queens and then distributed to vineyards.

[00:28:11] So basically my interpretation of that is that the yeast cells wouldn’t survive in the winter exposed. And then they survive within the guts of these wasps, which then distribute them to the grape plants. And then you end up with wine and that’s why you can

[00:28:27] Sophie: [00:28:27] Fine. Wasps are great.

[00:28:30] David: [00:28:30] great.

[00:28:31] Sophie: [00:28:31] They’re just really scary. Dave. They’re like little flying injections that chase you’re never die, but I guess they do a lot that’s good for the environment. So let’s, you know, 10 points for wasps.

[00:28:43] Fine.

[00:28:44] David: [00:28:44] That’s very big

[00:28:45] Sophie: [00:28:45] of you Sophie

[00:28:45] No, really I’m being very petty, but all right. Let’s, we’ll be nicer to wasps, but just don’t go near them.

[00:28:50] Cause they’re going to sting you and you’re going to fill up the emergency rooms in this country.

Hugh – Yeast 2.0

[00:28:53]  David: [00:29:01] today we’re here with a special guest for the first time ever on STEMology. We’re with Dr. Hugh Goold, a postdoctoral fellow at Macquarie university.

[00:29:10]Sophie: [00:29:10] Hugh is with us because he’s part of pint of science. So pint of science is a thing that normally happens in pubs around Australia and other countries. But because we’re still a little bit COVID-y in the world, I believe that.

[00:29:21] This has become like an online event. So we’re chatting to Hugh who’s involved in pint of science. Dave and I are also involved. We’ll be doing a STEM panel, putting the M back in STEM. So as a mathematician, I’m the M. Dave is, puts the M and MC in this particular, uh, event as well.

[00:29:36]David: [00:29:36] And usually Hugh, I would say what in a nutshell is your research about, but I guess here, it would be more appropriate to say what in a yeast cell is your research about.

[00:29:48]Hugh: [00:29:48] Yeah. So, um, you know, there’s lots of important chemicals that we eat. So everything that we eat that is food, we use chemicals as vaccines, as medicines and all sorts of things. Most of the stuff that we interact with is a biological molecule. and there’s actually a really good way of making biological molecules in what we call cell factories.

[00:30:10] So it’s when you use a cell to like, make a lot of a chemical. And one thing that everyone’s seeing at the moment is all of these companies like CSL rushing to produce COVID vaccines at the moment. So what we’re doing in yeast 2.0 is we’ve designed an organism at the DNA level based on yeast.

[00:30:31]But a little bit different with a lot of changes that we think might make it more attractive as a means of production, of, of important chemicals, be they foods or additives or medicines. and we are constructing this organism, and we think that it will be a really, really good step towards microbial production.

[00:30:52] Sophie: [00:30:52] So how does one create an organism or that is that secret?

[00:30:58] Hugh: [00:30:58] No, no it’s published.  What you do is you get a genome sequence, which is now quite an accessible technology, used to be only bioinformaticians could do it, but now everyone can afford to do it.

[00:31:09] And everyone’s kind of got a vague idea how to do it. It’s a very democratized kind of technology, genome sequencing. So they got the yeast genome sequence, and then they put it through a computer algorithm and inserted and changed millions and millions of bits of the genome across the entire organism.

[00:31:26] And then inside just a normal everyday sort of laboratory yeast strain,  we put in sort of 20 or base pairs at a time of this. New synthetic DNA design into the original yeast, and then we tested it all there. And then we put in the next 30 KV. And Macquarie university has about two megabases, which is about 2 million base pairs  of the 12 million base pair genome to construct.

[00:31:55]David: [00:31:55] I guess I have two little questions. The first is why, why yeast and why not like an animal or a plant cell. And also why, why build it from the ground up? Why not just genetically modify something that already exists to produce the molecules that you’re interested in?

[00:32:10] Sophie: [00:32:10] Yup. Yup. So the answer to the first one is why yeast. And this is super easy. Yeast can be trained to grow on different carbon, which is really useful so that you can essentially teach it how to eat waste products or different products. And it’s really cool. Secondly, it’s really easy to modify. And thirdly, it grows a lot faster than plant or mammal cells, but unlike bacteria, which is like a pro carrier, which means a very simple kind of life form, yeast is a eukaryote, which means that it’s got a lot more relevance to plants, animals, mammals, fish, whatever, any, any other complex organisms yeast is just naturally going to have more relevance to those.

[00:32:50]So that’s part one and part two. Is well, a part of the design of the organism is that we’ve put in, these special signals between every single gene. And this is going to allow us to completely randomize the genome and create new genomes out of one genome. So rather than engineering a cell with a biochemical pathway to make  a vaccine or whatever, by putting the three or four genes in.

[00:33:19] We put the three or four genes in, but then we turn on the evolution button called scramble, and this will make a million different cells. Some will be really bad, but some will sort of have lost the cell’s natural roadblocks to producing the chemical. And some will have amplified the things that help make it.

[00:33:36] So the precursor molecules or whatever, and we end up with millions of different cells and some of them will be extremely super performance for this particular task.

[00:33:45]David: [00:33:45] Cool. So basically there’s something about not just having the genes in there, but also the order that the genes appear in the genome that can lead to the success or the failure of the cell. So when you randomize it, you just pick out the ones that work and get rid of the rest. Cool.

[00:34:00] Hugh: [00:34:00] that’s right. So for example, if we’re looking at making plant oils in yeast, the thing that eats oils in the cell is called a lipase. Right? And if we were to put the genes in, that will make the cell really, really oily. The lipases are always going to eat away at the oils, but then we scramble the cell and randomize it completely.

[00:34:20] And then we find there are a few cells out of the millions of cells that will have lost all of the lipase genes. And they’ll just have a natural propensity. I mean, much, much oilier. And so then for instance, we might be able to make, um, I dunno, like Palm oil without having to rely on forests in Borneo or something like that, you know,

[00:34:38]Sophie: [00:34:38] So that’s, I mean, the implications that are pretty huge, right? If you can get your yeast to do all of these things, lots of these things simply by this process where you kind of randomize it, pick the great ones that do the things you want, and then Bob’s your uncle sort of thing.

[00:34:53] Hugh: [00:34:53] It’s true, but the challenge is finding really good screens. So, I mean, there’s a lot of things that you you’d need to screen millions of colonies in a high throughput manner. And that’s not something that everyone can do. Sometimes there’s a chemical or a dye or something that will help us screen this stuff.

[00:35:12] But what they’re doing at Macquarie university, which is why I’m based there, because I actually worked for new South Wales department of primary industries, Macquarie uni is building a huge, what’s called a genome Foundry, which is a. High throughput  robotic automated platform for these kinds of genetic experiments.

[00:35:29] So rather than me sort of slaving away at the lab bench making like one strain a month kind of thing, this, this robotic platform will do what I do. It will work 24 hours a day,  seven days a week. And it will produce like a thousand strains a month or something, and through an automated process.

[00:35:47] It will sequence,  it will test whether they’re making more or less, and rather than me having to pick one at a time and analyze it. So yeah, this is really exciting. And this platform at Macquarie is, is really, excellent.

[00:36:00] Sophie: [00:36:00] is Macquarie the only place in the world doing these kinds of things, or is this a common process using fancy robots to do the work?

[00:36:09] Hugh: [00:36:09] I wouldn’t say it’s common as yet, but it’s an international thing. There are people doing it around the world. so there’s a few of them around, but it’s it’s by no means common. They they’re quite expensive to set up.

[00:36:20]David: [00:36:20] So in addition to all the fantastic and practical applications of these cells,  in the paper that you kindly provided to us, there’s a suggestion that looking at these kinds of synthetic organisms can actually enhance our understanding of microbial biology in general.

[00:36:36] Can you maybe touch briefly upon how exactly that.

[00:36:41] Hugh: [00:36:41] Yeah, absolutely. So the construction has been a real challenge. There’s been lots of things. We need the cell to be able to grow the same as an original yeast cell. And so every time we make some of these changes, we compare the growth and sometimes the growth doesn’t work quite the same. So it might be a bit heat sensitive, or it might not grow on, on a different type of carbon or something like that.

[00:37:04] So, We have to look at what changes we’ve done. And we find something like, Oh, the RNA that that’s been produced by this particular molecule, it’s got this recombination signal that wasn’t there in the original cell. And that means that we’ve now identified that these kinds of signals are important in the context of how these kinds of genes work.

[00:37:26]yeah, I mean, We’re kind of uncovering these kinds of things. They’ve removed. What’s called junk DNA. I don’t really think there’s such a thing, but they’ve removed the junk DNA from the organisms. So this refers to like old viral elements that exist in all genomes and pigs have them. They’re called pervs take endogenous retroviruses.

[00:37:44] They’re essentially. Silenced. And that’s why we can’t get like transplants, which would be super convenient, especially for hunting truffles, I guess. But, um, you know, we kind of get pig transplants, cause they’ve got All these viruses that have been genetically silenced over millions of years of evolution, that aren’t silence in the human body.

[00:38:03] Um, so you know, these exist also in yeast and we’ve removed a lot of them, these old viral elements. And so we’re trying to make sure that they don’t have an important role, but a lot of them might. And we don’t really know until we do this kind of new approach of removing all of them.

[00:38:20]David: [00:38:20] Cool.

[00:38:21] Sophie: [00:38:21] Yeah,

[00:38:22]Hugh: [00:38:22] There’s a engineering expression. It’s like we learn how to understand something best by building it. We can’t understand something unless we can properly build it. And so this is trying to understand the fundamental roles of these weird genetic elements that we don’t fully know everything about b y removing them

[00:38:38] David: [00:38:38] beautiful. That’s very well put.

[00:38:39]Sophie: [00:38:39] There go everyone yeast very, very important. We can’t have pig transplants and everyone should check out their local pint of science events.

[00:38:47]Thanks very much for joining us. Hugh.

[00:38:49] If you Google pint of science, Australia, you’ll find a list of all these cool online events that you can go to and join Dave and I for putting the M back in STEM panel later on during the week.


[00:39:00]  David: [00:39:07] And thank you for listening to another fun episode of STEMology. Be sure to check out all the links to these great stories on our show notes.

[00:39:13] Go visit www.stemology.com.au.

[00:39:16]Sophie: [00:39:16] If you have any news that you think is STEM ology worthy, drop us an email stemology@ramaley.media. We would love to give you a mention, if you give us some good ideas,

[00:39:25]David: [00:39:25] Your hosts have been Dr. Sophie calabretto and Dr. David Farmer.

[00:39:29]Sophie: [00:39:29] This is a podcast from Ramaley Media.

[00:39:32] Our executive producer is Melanie De Gioia.

[00:39:34]Our Music is from Elizabeth Maniscalco.

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[00:39:40] We look forward to sharing the latest in all things, science, technology, engineering, and maths with you next week, and be sure to bring your friends.