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We're hittin' the road, from The Field Museum to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. In this first video, I get to visit one of the most unique collections I've ever seen in a natural history museum, AND guess what, I'm actually going to become their latest donation. What!

To learn more about the Health Sciences collection: http://bit.ly/2uza4Hy
And Dr. Garneau’s Genetics of Taste Lab: http://bit.ly/2vC9RAs

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Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Editor, Director, Camera:
Brandon Brungard

Producer, Camera:
Sheheryar Ahsan

Interview with:
Dr. Nicole Garneau

Drone footage by:
Jess Wellington and Greg Koronowicz (Thank you!)

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This episode is a collaboration between
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL
(http://www.fieldmuseum.org)
and
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science
(http://www.dmns.org/)
And filmed on location in beautiful Denver, Colorado.
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This video is brought to you by a collaboration between the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

We're going on a road trip!

We did it, we made it.  We're here at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science here in beautiful Denver, Colorado.  I mean, this place has got mountains, it's got a splash pad, it's got this bear sculpture, and it's got this amazing museum that has been a fixture of Colorado and Denver for over 117 years, and I've heard that they've got some amazing research and collections work, so we're gonna go check it out.  I'm also super out of breath cuz the altitude's really high here.  I gotta go!

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has a lot of what you'd expect in the collections of a natural history museum.  Zoology and anthropology, an awesome earth sciences collection with vertebrate and plant fossils and minerals.  On the public side, they've got a gem exhibit that mimics an underground mine. Beautiful dioramas, an exhibition on space, and a stomping T-Rex.  But the museum also has something pretty unique that I've never seen in a natural history museum.  A health sciences collection, with an exhibition about genetics where people are the scientific focus.  But it makes sense; humans are a huge part of the natural world, so it makes sense that we'd study ourselves in the same way we study other organisms and communities around the planet.

Dr. Nicole Garneau is the museums curator of health sciences.  We stopped by to learn more about this unique collection and have a chance to participate in her research.  Because here's the fun part: I'm about to be the newest addition to their collection.

So, Nicole, we are in a collection that is nothing like a collection that we have at The Field Museum. What, where are we?

Nicole: We're in the health sciences collection, in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Emily: Okay.

N: So, going along with the theme that humans are part of the tree of life, it's really important for us to study our own biology; not necessarily in a human health sense, so it's kind of a misnomer that it's called health, but just, really understanding, from body, to system, to organ, to tissue, to cell, to DNA.  What does it mean to be human?

E: So, what is, what are some of the things that you have in this collection, I'm really excited to see.

N: Alright, let's go.  So we start off with my educational collection.  It includes things from full human bodies down to specimens like this, which allow us to see systems working together.

E: What? This-

N: Correct.

E: Wha.  You have an arm.

N: We do, and um, it was the donor's intent, so all of our specimens have donor intent with them.

E:  You want my arm?  Can I give you my arms?

N: You need to go through a proper donation process through the state of Colorado, but yes, absolutely.

E: Okay.  You can have my arms.

N:  So this is a really great way to teach people because it allows us to take something that feels sometimes abstract like a collection, and make it feel personally relevant, and makes you feel really curious about "how does my body work?"

E: How is this prepared?  I mean, I think this is another reason like why I've never seen something like this in a museum.

N: Right.

E: This is not a normal preparation technique.

N: Anyone who works in a wet collection, for example, which is probably gonna be soft tissue, you put it in like formaldehyde or alcohol. 

N: There's still gonna be aspects of decay occurring, so the collection is not really kept forever. Plastination eliminates that because anywhere that was water is now plastic. You have something that can be used for generations and generations and generations for educational purposes.

E: It looks like a, like a plastic model that somebody molded, but to know that this is...

N: This is real, this was a real person.

E: I kinda wanna like, touch it.

N: Go ahead and grab your glove. You probably just need one. Plastic is kinda pliable, so if you feel it, it is kinda hard but it also kinda has that plastic feel to it. And that's kinda what you want, you don't want something that's going to degrade over time.

E: But this isn't the only thing you have.

N: No, so this is at the big side.

E: Yeah.

N: Um, and then, let's dive deeper.

E: Awesome.

N: What is this actually looking inside the body, like you were doing an X-Ray.  Except for again, this was, this is real tissue.

E: They kinda look like pizzas, I'm not gonna lie.  This is a slice of a body.

N: Yeah, so these are different, they're different slices of the body.  The preparation is the bodies are frozen, again, donor intent for educational purposes, and then slices happen and those slices go into baggies and those baggies get a different type of plastic, an acrylic based plastic, and dyes that bind different tissues, and you get something like this.  This is one of my favorites, which is, transverse slice of a human hand.

E: Oh my gosh! It's like my hand.  This is what the inside of a hand looks like?

N: So if I put this on top, that would be... wow, this is a really good match for you.

E: So how is this information being used, like besides this being like a really cool, interesting collection, how can looking at this inform
some aspect of science.

N: We use them mostly for education, so these type of specimens get incorporated into all of our programming about the human body.  Right up from little guys, right, the wee ones that come through all the way through high school students.  And then like I said, we work very closely with communities that tend to fall into that health sciences area, who are into anatomy, for them to have a more in-depth understanding and res-access to resources that can help them do their job better.  So medical students, massage therapists, it runs the gamut, sports therapists.

E: But then you have even smaller things.

N: We do.

E: I mean, we start really big and then we're shrinking.

N: At this point we're now diving into tissues and cells. These are also slices, but on a really small scale; these are slices of tissues.  This particular collection that we're working on right now is the, is the intestines.  The nice thing about this collection is it not only has normal histology, so just, things are going good, basic science, right?

E: Yeah.

N: But it also has pathology, which is what happens when things go wrong at the cellular level.  So we're able to have a collection that we're gonna understand, digitize, and make available for research purposes; both the, "Here's normal, how human cells work," and, "Here's what happens when things go awry."

E: And then, you have another collection that you're building that is even smaller than the cellular level.

N: It is. It is!  So we have thousands and thousands of these little tubes, so we're small but powerful.  So this is pure DNA.  So when people come into my lab, which I hear you're gonna do, and they get a cheek swab, we get their cheek cells, and we get rid of everything in their cheek cells except for the DNA and we save the DNA in these little tubes so we can study the DNA.

E: So you're actively allowing museum visitors and people coming to this collection to contribute their DNA to be a part of this greater understanding of human biology.

N: This represents a person who came as a guest to our museum, and is now a pert of the museum's research collection.

E: I wanna, can I be a part of the museum collection?

N: We would love to have you be a part of it.  Yeah.  The goal of the Science of Sour study is, truly the big goal is to see if we can find the gene or genes for sour taste.  By doing this huge population study where people are tasting sour samples and we get their DNA, we can compare the taste date to the DNA data.  The reason why we have this community based aspect and the citizen science aspect of our work is that we want science to be personally relevant to people.  And concurrently, we want people to be jazzed about the way their own body and genetics.

E: I'm jazzed.

N: Yeah.

E: I'm ready.  Let's do this.

N: Let's do it.  Alright, so we've already completed informed consent.

E: Yes.

N: So you've agreed to participate in this study, which is awesome, and we're gonna start the taste test.

E: Oh boy!

N: So go ahead and grab your nose clips, and you are going to wear them like a unicorn.

E: Oh, okay.

N: Yup.  And then you do the sniff test.

E: *sniffs* I can't breathe.

N: That's perfect! If you can't breathe through your nose, that's good. So go ahead and take those off -

E: Okay. Whew.

N: - while I give you the rest of the instructions so you don't have to wear them. When we want to study just taste, we have to remove all the rest of the cues.

E: Okay.

N: So, we're removing smell, we're removing mouth feel because all of the-all of the samples will feel the same in your mouth, they'll feel like water. We're removing visual cues, because they're just clear, so there's no colors. And sound isn't too much involved in this one, although sound can play a role. Like, if you crunch a carrot and you think it's supposed to be crunchy and it's not crunchy...

E: You have some nasty carrots (laughter)

N: Correct! So we use all of our five senses for flavor, we're just studying taste.

E: Okay.

N: So that's why we use the nose clips.

E: Gotcha.

N: What you're going to do is put on the nose clips, you're going to take the solution marked L, take a deep breath, put the whole thing in your mouth, and then swish is around for five seconds, spit it out, and then mark how intense the sour is.

E: Okay. Here we go.

E: That was pretty weak, I've got to say. That was like a, that was like a diluted lemonade.

N: Okay.

E: Like if you go to some kid's stand and they're like "Want some lemonade?" but they didn't make it right because they didn't get the ratios correct, but you still give them a dollar 'cause it's a kid-

N: You have to. It's a kid.

E: - selling lemonade, but that's...

N: Now you're going to say how much did you like that solution.

E: I slightly liked it because I like citrus-y things and it was kind of citrus-y.

N: Perfect, so now you can take off your nose clips. You can take a deep breath in and out and cleanse your palate with some water.

E: Okay.

N: And we're gonna hit "next." So we have other questions that we need to answer throughout, and this is done purposefully to give your tongue a little bit of a break in between samples.

E: What is my race? I am very white. Next. Am I a member of the museum? Not currently.

N: We'll work on that.

E: (laughter)

N: So, we're going to go to sample 

E: Okay. And I put back my -

N: Yep. The reason why we have it like this, again, is so it's double-blind. I don't know which of - so we're testing five different sour molecules to figure out if those sour molecules, if all sour's created equal.

E: Okay.

N: So the reason why we have them randomized is so that you don't know which one is which, and I don't know, so I can't kind of prime you.

E: Is this malic acid? I don't know.

N: And then -

E: I don't even know what malic acid is.

E: That was a little more sour! I'm gonna go with, like, middle of the line sourness.

N: Alright, so go ahead and take a little sip of water.

E: Power through.

N: Swallow without the nose clips on.

E: Okay, nose clips.

N: Sniff test? *Emily sniffs audibly* All good? Alright, take a deep breath.

E: That was tart! I don't know if it was, like, quite sour, that was like a sweet tart.

N: Okay

E: And I slightly liked that, I'm probably gonna slightly like all of these.

N: That's good, that's fine. We're gonna ask you some questions about food adventurousness-

E: Oh!

N: -and that's how likely you are to try new foods, which might be a factor in how you rate something

E: Okay.

N: which is basically what taste scientists want to know, 'cause humans are messy.

E: "I don't trust new foods." I disagree extremely with that. "I like foods from different countries." I agree extremely. "I'm very particular about foods that I will eat." I agree, no, what? No. I disagree slightly because I did travel to Denver and pack my own lunch, the same lunch that I eat every day in Chicago.

N: Okay, that was a good answer then.

E: Alright, I'm ready. *drinks, makes face* That one, that was really tart! Kind of puckering, a little bit. (Nicole laughs) My mouth is suddenly very dry. Okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna, I don't know if that's sour, but I'm gonna put that, that was a little bit more, more extreme, putting that over the middle line. 

N: Go ahead and get some water in there, and we are going to do the DNA sample. 

E: Whoa!

N: We're going to collect cheek cells, so these cheek cells, are right now, hundreds if not thousands of them, you just swallowed them. So, instead of you swallowing them, we're just going to take some of them. 

E: Okay.

N: Of course, with your permission, and de-identified so that no one can use your DNA against you.

E: So, my name is not going to be attached to this-

N: No, you are a visitor ID number. You're gonna pop this out, you're gonna pick a side, don't switch sides, try not to touch your tongue or your teeth, and the reason why we want cells is because cells have DNA in it. 

*music plays*

N: Your DNA is like a cookbook for your body. So a cookbook had recipes, your DNA genome has recipes, they're called genes. And just like you have a recipe for chocolate cake that you got from your mom, but maybe you changed it a little bit, that change in the recipe can totally change the way the cake comes out. And so, that's what happens in human genetics. These little, tiny changes, can mean we have changes in a way that we can see, like hair color and eye color, and ways we can't see, like how we experience taste and detect taste. Go ahead and now, put that in there, well done.

E: Do-do-do-do-do. I did it! I did it.

N: You did it. We'll go through and do an extraction process where we'll get rid of everything in the cell except DNA and we'll end up with this tiny little tube of Emily's DNA, de-identified, and that becomes part of our human biology collection here at the museum. So, by participating, you get to be part of our museum forever,

E: *clapping hands* Yay! 

N: which is pretty sweet.

E: It's always what I ever wanted. 

N: You get to be, yeah! So we're good to move on to the last taste test.

E: Okay, alright, last one.

N: You did it!

E: Not gonna lie, that was a little on the disappointing side, in terms of like flavor explosion.

N: You really wanted things to escalate!

E: Yeah, I was really expecting, 'cause you kinda hyped it, "you might not like some of these things." 

N: Everyone's an individual, so we have people who come in and are like, all of them taste super strong to them,

E: Really?

N: which is really good for me as a geneticist to say, there's clearly different interactions going on here, let's figure out if genetics is part of that.

E: I'm gonna say I slightly liked that, because I guess I'm just a fan of like, acidic tastes. Can I take this off?

N: You may. Because you were part of our study, we have a "Where do you fit?" board, and that board has a dot for if you love sour, take it or leave it, or hate sour. And this is really neat, because guests can come in and be like, "oh holy cow! 8-12 loves sour!" and then you can see the different kind of data point snapshots.

E: Cool!

N: Alright, and that's yours! 

E: Thanks!

N: Thanks for participating!

E: No, thank y-, I'm part of science! 

N: You're part of science, and you're part of the museum's permanent research collection.

E: Yes!

*end theme plays*

E: It still has brains on it.