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In our previous video 'What is a Species?,' we talked about the many ways scientists approach classifying organisms. So, I thought it'd be fun to get a few scientists from The Field Museum to apply their taxonomic know-how on something we're all familiar with: candy! How would you have organized these various confections?

This experiment in classification can be used with anything from pasta, to cell phones, beverages, cereals... seriously, start asking your friends and family if they think Pepsi and Coca-Cola are synonymous species, or similar via convergent evolution, and you're sure to have a lively Tuesday night.
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Thanks to Drs Olivier Rieppel, Janet Voight, Margaret Thayer, and Larry Heaney for entertaining this very serious topic.

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Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Editor, Camera, Graphics:
Brandon Brungard

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This episode is supported by and filmed on location at:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL
(http://www.fieldmuseum.org)
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Emily: Hey! So taxonomy is a totally complicated, really interesting field of science responsible for the naming and classification of things and we started to kind of get into this topic with our previous episode on "What is a Species", where we look into species definitions and concepts but I thought it would be really fun to do a hands-on experiment and there's nothing better than getting a couple of expert taxonomists in on the game.   Olivier: I'm Olivier Rieppel. I'm the Roe family curator of evolutionary biology here at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Janet: I'm Janet Voight. I'm a MacArthur Associate Curator here at the Field Museum in the Integrative Research Center.
Larry: My name is Larry Heaney. I am the Negaunee Curator of Mammals at the Field Museum at the Field Museum of Natural History.   Margaret: My name's Margaret Thayer. I'm a curator emeritus at the Field Museum I study insects, particularly beetles.

Emily: And we wanted to get them to look at something in-depth that maybe they hadn't considered classifying before.   Skittles! Peanut M&Ms! Peanut butter M&Ms! Nerds! Plain M&Ms! Starbursts! Reese's Pieces! Jellybeans! Chocolate-covered peanuts! Chewy Jolly Rancher thingies! Starburst jellybeans! And we had some black licorice, but I lost it. That's right--we're doing the taxonomy of candy.

[Brain Scoop intro music]

Olivier: If you want to classify things--and that can be anything, I mean, organisms you classify according to illusionary relationships. With candy, or office furniture, or whatever you classify according to similarities.   Janet: The art of taxonomy requires that you actually separate that new thing that you think you've found as much as you can from every other species that looks like it.

Larry: I like chocolate-covered candy.

Emily: OK.   Larry: And so we could group it together that way.

Emily: So, essentially, all of these on this side, and we can move the Nerds over here.

Larry: And that one too.   Emily: Yup.

Larry: Yeah, can I have one of those?

Emily: Yes, feel free.   Margaret: I think investigating their contents would be an important thing to look at. It's not quite as hard as it looks.

Emily: Oh wow! Margaret: That has some kind of jelly material in it. (chewing) I don't usually use this test for specimens, but... (both laugh)
Emily: Do you eat the beetles that you study?

Margaret: No, not normally. We occasionally sniff them, but that's all.

Emily: Oh.   Olivier: Here are the roundish things, the big ones, and then the smaller roundish things would be more closely related to that batch here than to any of the others.

Janet: Right now I'm approaching these jars as collections made of what's likely the same species. The collections were made at one spot, at one time.   Emily: You went to the river, put the jar in the water, and it was filled with Reese's Pieces.

Janet: Yeah.

Emily: OK.   Janet: In La-La Land, I mean, but... (both laugh)
Larry: So we could group things together, put the chocolate ones together that way OR we could take the red ones and put those together. Emily: Allll of the red ones.

Margaret: That would be like taking a whole bunch of different red birds and putting them all together because they're red but one of them is a cardinal and one is some kind of duck, and you know... *muttering*... they're not related at all, so...
Emily: They're not even close.   Margaret: Yeah.

Emily: So would you put those with the other bean shapes, here?

Olivier: So these are the bean shapes, here...
Olivier: And then you have the bean shaped, you have the rounded, that go closer, that go over with the bean shaped... And you have the small rounded, that go closer with those...
Janet: So just flipping through these, I'm seeing these Reese's Pieces: different colors, but the shape is amazingly uniform. These, with a strange letter "M," have some damage--I see their guts are actually chocolate.   So my hypothesis is that each of these things, despite being a different color, actually has guts of chocolate.

Emily: So you think that the red Skittles and the red Jolly Ranchers, and the red black-covered licorice, as gross as it is, can all be one thing.

Larry (eating candy): Absolutely. That's the thing about candy. You can put it together, you can group them any way you want.

Emily: Mm-hmm

Larry: Doesn't matter.   Olivier: The way they are mixed up, you can't classify them in colors, because there is all colors in one.

Emily: Right.

Olivier: So, not many characters to go with.   Emily: I have insider knowledge: I have done extensive work on the taxonomy of Jelly Bellies.

Margaret: (laughing)

Emily: And I can tell you that there are 36 different flavors in here. What would you make of something like that?

Margaret: Well it could be that, uh, if we worked out the taxonomy of these things, we might decide that the Jelly Bellies were a genus unto themselves. And those 36, 37 flavors were different species of Jelly Bellies.

Emily: Oh wow.

Margaret: Similarly, those other jelly bean things, that would be another way to interpret those as well.   Emily: They're like the same family.

Margaret: *clears throat* Yeah.

Emily: They're in the jelly bean family.   Margaret: The jelly bean family, right.

Emily: I want to organize candy in a way where I can reach my hand in and shove them all in my face You can't do that with the red candy because then you've got like the peanut M&M and then the cinnamon Jelly Belly.

Larry: Cinnamon and peanut butter actually would go together well... You can try that.
Emily: Um, I'm okay. I'm alright.   *both start laughing*

Janet: So you slap out your pen and your paper and your computer and you say, "Why are they different?" So you add all those up and then you go back and look in the literature For previously published descriptions of things that are kind of like this.

Emily: Uh-huh

Janet: In the same genus, let's say---or maybe in related genera, because sometimes a genus isn't as good as you think it is...

Emily: Yeah...

Janet: But then you read those, and you look at them, and if you're kind of confused, then you try and get a hold of specimens, so that way...

Emily: And then it keeps kinda going.

Olivier: The goal of classification, in terms of organisms, the goal of classification is to bring out their evolutionary relationships.   Larry: What makes organisms so different is that our classifications of those is based on their relationships, on their ancestors. We don't put red bats and red foxes together. We COULD put red candy together! It makes perfect sense, why not? But we don't do it with red bats and red foxes because they DON'T share a common ancestor except way way way way WAY back.   Olivier: Yeah, there's very many ways to classify things, and it's an interesting problem. Why there should be so many ways to classify things, and what these different classification things say about the world.

Emily: And what does it say about us as people--

Olivier: as people, exactly.   Emily: For choosing the ways, ways that we choose

Olivier: Which means to say, is it us bringing order to the world? Or does the world come to us in an ordered way? And probably is the first way around.

Emily: Oh wow. Now you're going into the philosophical rabbit hole.

[Brain Scoop outro plays]

Emily: It still has brains on it.