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Andrea and Don Stierle talk with Hank about their work analyzing various microorganisms in the Berkeley Pit and how they discovered a new type of antibiotic. Then Jessi joins in to show off Blueberry, the northern blue-tongued skink.

Hosted by: Hank Green

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 (00:00) to (02:00)


[Hank]: Hello! And welcome to SciShow Talk Show the day where we talk to interesting people about interesting things; today we are talking to Andrea and Don Stierle, research scientists at the University of Montana, who have done a lot of amazing things in your long career as scientists.

H: So, you guys are married.

A: Mm-hmm?

H: But you have also been doing research together for thirty-plus years?

A: Absolutely.

D: Mm-hmm?

H: And have been looking at the Berkeley Pit for interesting organisms that may live there that may be useful to humans.

A: Absolutely.

H: So, talk a little bit about, like, uh, what each of you do and... So you've taught, but you no longer teach -  just your research now?

A: Correct. We're strictly research professors at UM.

H: Okay

A: So I'm more of the biology end of things, so whether we are looking at microbes in the Berkeley Pit or microbes in the bark of a yew tree, the first step, of course, is to isolate these microorganisms. And we pick fungi and sometimes bacteria because they are great chemists. They do beautiful chemistry, and they do chemistry with a reason. They live in an ecosystem that they have to interact with, so they may be fighting off other fungi or bacteria, so they have to make antibiotics - 

Hank: Mm-hmm?

A: - like penicillin. They may also have to react to low PH, -

H: Sure.

A: - acidic conditions, or high metals, and so they produce small molecules to defend themselves. We can-, humans can isolate those chemicals and we can use them for our own purposes. So I isolate these guys, establish them in pure culture, grow them in fermentation broths, -

H: I mean, how do you take one-? 'Because, you got a bucket of Berkeley Pit water...

D: [chuckles]

A: Streak and streak and streak.

H: Just like, "This one - take that out and put it here, take that out and put it here, - "

A: Exactly.

H: And just, and eventually?

A: And just slowly come up with pure cultures.

H: And you can tell the difference by looking at that?

A: Absolutley. Their morphology is different -

H: Mm-hmm?

A: - and you can grow them in their different broths so whether you feed them sucrose -

 (02:00) to (04:00)

A: - feed them sucrose or glucose or lactose, you change their chemistry.

H: Mm-hmm.

A: So you could literally lock us in a lab for a hundred years with one microbe -

H: [chuckles]

A: - and we could just keep-, please don't, but -

H: [laughs]

D: [laughs]

A: - we could keep coming up with new chemicals and it's amazing.

H: Yeah.

A: Once we establish the (?~2:17) bin-pure culture, then the chemistry side begins.

H: Yeah.

A: And we do the extraction. Don and I both do the chemistry, but I'll let him talk about, -

H: Yeah.

A: - what we do with those extracts.

D: Sure. If you take any organism - if it's a plant, animal, whatever - and you put it in a whirring blender and grind it up, you can extract it with different solvents and get out different kinds of chemicals. And if you do that, you get out virtually hundreds of chemicals.

H: Sure.

D: And, -

H: I always say-, people say, "Look at all the ingredients on my, you know, my candy bar," and I'm like, "Well, look at all the ingredients in a tomato -"

A&D: Exactly, exactly.

D: So, then the game becomes finding something useful in that mix of compounds -

H: Mm-hmm.

D: - and isolating the compound that's responsible for that -

H: Right.

D: - and so, that's what we do. We separate these compounds out, we isolate the active one, and we have a series of bioassays [chyron: " A method to determine the concentration of a substance by its effect on living cells or tissues."] that we use, and then we try to determine what the structure of the compound is, so. We spend a lot of time -

H: Right.

D:- looking at-, you get a-, something out of a pit or a compound outta there that has some kind of activity, you have to know what the structure is before you can decide how it fits into the biological activity.

H: How it might be functioning but also I how you might synthesize it.

D: Exactly.

H: Because if you have to suck it out of a fungi every time you're doing it - ah, it's not super-practical. For how we make things these days.

A: In the long run, if you finally ended up with something that was we call "drug-worthy" or "drug-able" -

H: Right.

A: You would need do-.

D: - would need to make it, yeah.

A: But it's-, this part of it is really fun!

H: Oh, yeah!

A: If you like puzzles,

H: Yeah.

A: - if you like -

D: [chuckles]

A: - sleuthing, it's Indiana Jones -

 (04:00) to (06:00)

A: - It's Indiana Jones in a petri dish.

[Hank & Don chuckle]

A: So it's, it's really-. But Don mentioned testing. So, here you have a thousand compounds in a flask - 

H: Mm-hmm?

A: You know, we don't want to isolate all of them because some of them might be -

H: Oh, yeah.

A: - something that's not very active or interesting.

H: Well, I mean, most of it is going to be just, like, "metabolism stuff" and -

A: Just-, yeah.

[all together]
A: Just like general-, exactly!
H: - "cell-membrane stuff" and  -
D: We're all made of-, yeah, things we're all made of.

A: A little DNA, a little sugar, -

H: Yeah.

A: So, when he mentioned "bioassay," the most important thing that drives the research is selecting the test that directs your discovery.

H: Mm-hmm.

A: So, when we started looking at the Berkeley Pit-. So this is not a very compatible ecosystem.

H: Mm-hmm.

A: So, you're looking at law pH - pH 2.5 -

H: Super acidic.

A: Think of, like, a Mountain Dew, so - nasty.

H: [taken aback] I - [shrugs in good-natured dismay]

[A&D laugh]

H: I mean, they might-they might, they might be a sponsor one day.

A: They could, oh, that's true -

H: [laughs]

A: - just like lemon juice.

H: Okay.

A: Think of lemon juice, orange juice.

H: Tight.

A: But they're are also very high in what are called "reactive metals" -

H: Mm-hmm.

A: - so, things like copper and iron. And so, these are generating -

H: Which is super-antibacterial, like, -

A: Abso-.

D: Yeah.

H: - bacteria hate metals like that.

A: If you were looking at copper sulfate, that's actually what they treat things with -

H: Yeah.

A: - to kill fungi.

H: Mm-hmm.

D: But they also kill us. [laughs]

H: Yeah.

A: And they-, yes.

H: Also bad for people.

A: Also bad for fish, so you'll never find fish in the Berkeley Pit because of the copper.

H: No, and the birds land in it and don't ever take off again.

D: Mm-hmm.

A: And they-, very few of them do successfully. But, what is it about those systems that are going to drive the chemistry these fungi elaborate? And so it turns out, some of these, sort of what we'd call "toxic" conditions in the pit mimic toxic conditions in mammalian systems!

H: Oh, like in the gut.

A: So if you think about inflammation - that's an acidic phenomenon.

H: Mm-hmm?

A: If you think about, "Reactive-oxygen species are produced a lot in metabolism, and they can lead to things like DNA mutation and damage."

 (06:00) to (08:00)

A: And so these fungi have been working their entire tiny lives producing small molecules that can block enzymes that get excited by these conditions - 

H: Mm-hmm?

A: Their enzymes are analogous to some of our enzymes. So, we figured - we "hypothesized," to use the scientific jargon -

H: Mm-hmm?

D: [chuckles]

A: - the stuff you put in the grant - 

[H&D laugh]

A: - a fungus can produce compounds that can mitigate the effects of acid or reactive-oxygen species. Maybe we could fish those out, and they could actually work as anti-inflammatories? Anti-cancer agents! And so, this is exactly what we're finding: we're finding compounds that block cancer metastasis; we're finding compounds that REALLY mitigate inflammation; -

H: Hm!

A: - and just recently, we did something we'd never done before - we've never found an antibiotic in these organisms. Their concentration in the pit is so low, you know; this is not, like, a toxic soup.

H: Not too much competition here, yeah.

A: Exactly. So, we grew two together to see how it would change their chemistry.

H: Hm.

A: We took the two -

H: - two fungi?

A: [nodding] - most boring fungi we had, -

D: Mm-hmm. [chuckles]

A: - nothing in them was interesting. We put those puppies together -

H: [chuckling] How-, how do you know-how you know what, like, -  what makes it so boring? What would be interesting.

A: Well, Don looked at the chemistry-,

D: We had to, we-we looked at 'em to verify it, yeah, the chemistry.

H: Sure, okay.

A: And Don identified, "Oh, this is already known, this is already known," -

H: Right, okay.

A: "- these aren't very active, -"

H: Mm-hmm.

A: So, we were gonna just stick them back in storage, and we thought, "Well, these two might be interesting fungi," - and there's a great term for this - we wanted to see if we could turn on "cryptic biosynthesis."

H: Oo, yeah.

A: So, all those genes inside those fungi, they figure maybe 5% are actually being...

H: Expressed.

A: Expressed. And so, all of a sudden, we started producing-, so Don looked at the-the NMR - we do a lot of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance -

 (08:00) to (10:00)

A: - a lot of nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectrometry, - 

H: Mm-hmm.

A:  - and Don looked at the NMR and it was completely different -

H: When there were two of them.

A: - than either fungus.

H: [quietly] Weird.

A: So then we started testing, and it turned out -

H: I'm gonna-, okay -

A: - active advanced bacteria.

H: I'm gonna go back to - ... sorry, I interrupted -

A: It's okay, no problem.

H: I'll let you-I'll let you get back to that, but first -

A: "Hold that thought."

H: - how are you doing NMR on... with so many compounds?

D: Well, like I said, the first thing you're gonna do is purify the compound -

H: Right.

D: - that is responsible for the activity that you're looking for.

H: Right, okay.

D: And once you purify, then you do NMR on those, so.

H: Because you need some pretty specific-, like you're not just gonna throw a soup into the NMR.

D: Well, we look at-, yeah, we look at crude extracts, too -

A: First.

D: - and they give us some information about what's the biggest components that's in that particular extract.

H: And so you can sort of tell sort of a difference between one organis-, like if I just blend one fungi and then another fungi, I can tell the difference in an NMR between those two things?

D: Yeah -

H: Wow.

D: - you could tell a difference in the the chemistry -

A: - in the chemistry.

H: Just that it's different. You couldn't necessarily tell, like, what compounds they are, but there's sort of a fingerprint there.

D: Yeah, there is a fingerprint.

A: And some of them you get to know, so you can actually look at a crude NMR and, "This looks like asperfuran, and this looks like-"

H: Interesting.

A: - penicillic acid." But that's because we look at these a LOT.

[H&D laugh]

A: These are our friends! We spend a lot of time with them. Youv'e got nerds on your couch here.

H: Yeah, no, that's what the couch is for.

D: Oh, good!

A: I felt the vibe, I felt very safe here.

H: So then you put these two fungi together, they were completely different, what did you find... Were they now good at something new?

A: Don came in with this beautiful new structure, and we looked at the structure and I said, "This reminds me of compounds like erythromycin," which is a "cyclic" - what's called - "macrolide." And these are very potent -

 (10:00) to (12:00)

A: - and these are very potent antibiotics against gram-positive bacteria. Except things like erythromycin have a lot of sugars -

H: Mm-hmm?

A: - that are actually responsible for the activity. Well, our compound is sugar-free. 

H: Hm!

A: So, besides being -

H: No calories.

A: - less fueling, - 

[all laugh]

A: - it's not gonna harm your teeth! It didn't necessarily look like it could be antibiotic, so we have a wonderful colleague at University of Montana - Nigel Priestley, who's in chemistry - and he works at the discovery of antibiotics. And he, very graciously, had his technician, Jeremy, test our compounds and - it was incredible.

We were active only against gram-positives. Now, you know, you really want a gram-negative antibiotic, but we got a gram-positive one. 

H: Mm-hmm.

A: So different kinds of bacteria But what was really exciting we  were very active against Staphylococcus aureus. [slide] Now, Staph-aureus causes a lot of infections, soft-tissue damage, and other injuries. And they retested because they have a suite of what are called "Methecillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus," what we call "MRSAs."

H: Yeah.

A: But we also use "MRSA" more generically to mean "a drug-resistant drug aureus."

H: Mm-hmm.

A: So they have a number of multi-drug resistance that they got from a research lab back east, and when they tested our compound against them, we were actually more active against drug-resistant staph than we are against a more generic variety.

H: Hm!

A: And when they tested again, we're actually AS active as vancomycin, ciprofloxacin, and 32-times more active than erythromycin - because a lot of these compounds have become resistant. 

H: Yeah, of course.

A: And the actual staph that are now resistant to erythromycin, we're still killing.

H: Mm-hmm.

A: And we've tested and retested, -

 (12:00) to (14:00)

A: - and so far, these microbes have not developed resistance to our antibiotic, and we are really excited.

H: That's very cool, that sounds pretty "drug-able."

D: Yeah, hopefully so.

A: We're in the process of finding out the "drug-ibility."

[they laugh]

A: In the funding agencies, they call this "the valley of death?"

H: Mm-hmm.

A: Which is such a lovely term. It means [Hank chuckles] you can get funded for discovery!

H: Is that, is that - the funding agencies call it that? 

A: It is actually - 

H: I would think maybe the scientists call it that.

D: [laughs]

A: Well, - 

H: No, it's the funding agencies that are like, [straight face] "Welcome to the valley of death, -"

A: [laughs] Exactly!

H: "- send us your grand proposal."

A: That's what it feels like, too, after the third time that you've been turned down for, - 

H: Yeah.

A: "Really, guys. This is an exciting compound!" And it's ,"No, you haven't made it exciting enough yet."

H: Yeah.

A: So of course, you're a long way from a drug. Because we've only done one very-. Most of our testing is "in vitro," so we're looking at, you know, microbes in a petri dish.

H: Yeah.

A: We have a colleague at University of Wisconsin-Madison; they've been looking at mode-of-action studies for us. What's really exciting is that this thing doesn't seem to work in a way other antibiotics work. The mode-of-action - or really mechanism-of-action is what we're looking at at this point - doesn't seem to fit known patterns. And that makes it more exciting.

H: Mm-hmm?

A: So, we're in the process of writing the grants, forming the collaborations, because to-, it really does take a village to get a compound-

H: Yeah, you're not going to do this all on your own, yeah.

D: Yeah.

A: And we don't have those skill-sets, so we're finding -

H: Do you have the structure of this?

D: Oh, yeah.

A: We're not tell you, but we know!

[all laugh]

H: Oh, I'll just get my phone out.

A: Actually, we did publish, we patented through UM, and then we published this part of it last spring.

H: Cool.

A: And it was-, we made it onto -

 (14:00) to (16:00)

A: We made it onto a site; one of our students told us, "You're on Reddit." [Hank laughs] And I had NO idea what that meant.

H: Congrats on being on Reddit.

A: "You have 100-thousand points or something - [H wheezes] I did not even know what meant [Don chuckles], but he said, [A gives double thumbs-up sign] "It's cool."

H: It's good, it's a good thing.

A: I think so; we've done [The] Daily Show, Radiolab, and Reddit.

H: And you've taken a step down to SciShow Talk Show.

[D laughs]

A: No! This to be the pinnacle, this is exciting!

H: Well, we could talk forever about this, and you've found these microbes all over the place in weird spots, I mean, do you th-, are you particularly excited by the pit because there are weird things there? It's-it's like you end up with a, you know, a stranger group of organisms?

D: Ah, yes. And, well, we both started as the natural products chemists looking at marine organisms. The downside of that was you had to go to Bermuda, -

A: It was a tough duty.

H: Aw, I'm so, so sorry

D: - you had to go to the Bahamas to collect all of our samples. [all laugh]

H: In this one, you get to stay in (?~15:08)!

D: There you go, well, we ran out of money. [laughs] And you know, the pit was there, we found out that there were things growing in there, and we decided to look at 'em.

H: Nice.

A: We had a wonderful colleague - who was a chemist - who has since passed away, who actually in summer of 1995 brought us a stick coated in green slime that was in the pit. And that was the first -

H: It's like, "What is this thing that is alive."

A&D: Exactly!

D: Something was growing in the water.

A: And the [Montana] Bureau of Mines gave us a cup of water, and we started finding fungi. And what was really special about 1995 - that was the first November that snow geese landed in the pit during a storm and 342 snow geese died. And it was awful and -

H: Mm-hmm.

A: - some of the birds, quite a few of them, were not able to take off.

 (16:00) to (18:00)

A: - not able to take off. But many did try to lift off, and birds do something when they try to fly, and that is they poop. To make themselves more aerodynamic.

H: Weigh a little less, yeah.

A: So they evacuated into the pit, that next June we were able to get another sample, and there was a brand-new organism that had not been there the summer of '95.

H: [laughs]

A: And it was this sort of brownish-greenish yeast. And when we started growing - now again, this is kind of a little outside of what we usually do - but since we were at Tech [chyron: "Montana Tech, Butte, MT"], we had access to a lot of atomic absorption and inductively coupled plasma, these great instruments that measure metal concentrations. So we were finding that this yeast could actually pull metals out of water.

H: Mm!

A: Any yeast, horse shit, grass - if you put it in metal, it will sorb a certain amount of positively-charged metal.

H: 'Kay.

A: Let's say, 10%.

H: 10% of, like, it's weight?

A: 10% of the existing-, the metal concentration that's in there. 

H: Oh, okay.

A: And what this was doing was as we grew it in pit-water that we added a little sugar to to help it grow, it was sorbing up to 90% - 

H: Whoa.

A: - of iron, cadmium, lead, -

H: Why aren't we just punching a bunch of sugar into the pit?

A: I-, we can't get funding for this! Because - 

H: How much?? How much sugar do you need?

A: - we're not environmental engineers!

H: [laughs]

A: And it's not you could do "in-situ."

H: Right.

A: You know, you would use it as a treatment facility. So we keep since 19-, 

H: Oh, okay, so you couldn't just throw sugar in the pit and it would work.

A: Well, you never know, it's never been done.

H: I mean. I know where to get sugar.

A: - molasses?

D: [laughs]

A: It'd be interesting to see. And - 

H: [laughs] During the summer when it's warm, can hold a little more sugar.

A: Yeah! And last fall, they had another - anywhere from 3-10 thousand geese, - 

H: Mm-hmm?

A: And we didn't get access to the pit to sample again, -

 (18:00) to (20:00)

A: - pit to, sample again, but that tragic bolus of... matter, probably changed the ecology of the pit - 

H: I mean, "Tragic bolus of matter..." [A&D laugh]

A: Ohgod! Ohlord, nerd alert!

H: Is that what you mean by just a bunch of dead geese?

A: Yeah. Yeah.

D: Well, it turns out that after we start looking at organisms, we send them off to get them ID'd? And the ID on this one, the only place that had been reported before is from the rectal swap of a goose.

H: So it's-, yeah. We know where it came from.

D: We know where it came from, yeah! 

A: We're pretty sure. [all laugh] It's in our lab now.

H: Weird that there's, like, a really good metal-absorber in goose guts.

A&D: Yeah.

H: But, I don't know, they eat all lot of weird stuff. [chuckles] They're geese.

D: [chuckles]

A: Well, you know, the strange thing is we would tell microbiolo-, REAL microbiolo-, not just people who play at microbiology, and we would tell them the yeast that we found at the Berkeley Pit, "You know, the pH is 2.5," [affected voice] "No, you didn't."

H: [laughs] "Well, you haven't been around-,"

A: It's in our lab!

H: "You haven't been around enough goose butts."

D: [laughs]

A: Exactly!

H: Well, we could talk all day - we can't, because I have to be kind to these people who have to edit -

A: Absolutely.

H: - edit the video later, and [A&D laugh] before we end, I want you guys to meet an animal.

D: I would love that.

H: It's not gonna be a goose; she doesn't have any geese.

A: Aw, but it is alive, right?

H: It is alive.

A: Oh, good.

H: A living animal. It isn't a tragic bolus or anything.

A: Okay. [all laugh] Can we take a rectal swab of this animal?

H: Yeah, I mean.

A: I didn't bring a swab! [all laugh]

H: "I didn't bring a swab!"

A: I wasn't prepared!

[slide: "SciShow"]

[Jessi]: This is Blueberry, [chyron: "Blueberry, Northern blue-tongued skink] she's a blue-tongued skink.

D: "Skink."
A: She is gorgeous.

J: "Skink." She's a northern blue-tongued skink from northern regions of Afr-, [chuckles] Austrailia, and in Austrailia they call them just "blue-tongues" -

 (20:00) to (22:00)

J: - call them just "blue tongues" or "blue-tongue lizards." Yeah.

H: So they're, like, common enough that they're like, [Austrailian accent] "Oh, there's a blue-tongue in the yard."

J: Exactly.

H: That was my worst ever -

A: No, -

J: It's EXACTLY like that. [all laugh]

A: It's actually good! Now, everything that I know about Austrailian animals is they are all the most -

J: Terrifying.

A: - deadly, -

J: Right!

A: - the most deadly of all the-, you know -

D: Though not Blueberry.

J: Not Blueberry though.

A: But Blueberry is not.

J: But, I mean, she has the most perfect defense, because everything is venomous or poisonous there, right? They are the deadly-, every animal there is just terrifying, yeah. But she has this really cool thing - let's see if she'll show it off - [Blueberry licks the air] there she goes!

D: Oh, look at that.

J: Yeah! It's what she's named after, too. So her blue tongue -

A: She is beautiful.

J: - and that is a warning color that says, "I am poisonous or venomous, [sing-song] something bad is gonna happen to you if you eat me or come close to me."

A: Isn't she beautiful?

H: Will anything bad happen to me?

J: Not really. I mean, she has some teeth in there, she could bite you, but that's not really what they're defense is going to be. So they're going to open their mouth - I mean, she sticks her tongue out to breat-, to smell, but when she is in her defensive posture, she'll open her mouth large, and then-, - wide - and then stick her tongue out, and then she'll-she'll raise her tongue up and then wiggle it! Back and forth.

A: Sounds like Jurassic Park.

J: You're right! [all laugh] And then she can be like, [sing-song] "Seriously! If you eat me, something bad is going to happen." And they're like, either the predator believes her or doesn't believe her, and if it believes her - good. She lives another day. But if they don't believe her, then she's gotta get out of there really fast. And she's... not very fast. [H chuckles]

A: I was gonna say...

D: She has such little legs. [laughs]

H: Yeah, I mean she looks like just a, like, just a sausage, -

A: She is just absolutely beautiful!

H: - like, if I'm in Austrailia and I'm Blueberry, I would feel very vulnerable. Because that just looks like a big tube of meat [others laugh] to me.

J: I mean, yeah, sure. Yeah.

H: Like, "Look at this big delicious-looking fatty tail!"

J: Mm-hmm, everything looks delicious about her.

H: Yeah.

J: So, yeah. She will turn around and she'll try to escape, which then leaves her tail super-vulnerable, and they'll grab her tail - which she can drop. She can let go of her tail.

H: [all murmur in understanding] Oh okay, I see. So, "This is the defense is that I have a big fat sausage - "

J: Backup plan!

 (22:00) to (24:00)

H: - a bit, fat sausage -"

J: Backup plan!

A: Yeah.

H: Yeah.

D: What does she eat?

J: She's going-, she LOVES snails, -

D: Yum! [mouth smacks]

J: - but she'll also eat beetles and worms and eggs, baby birds that are nesting on the ground or small rodents. And then she'll also eat vegetation, too, so she does eat berries and leaves and -

A: Can I pet her?

J: You can pet her on her back; don't touch her face.

A: I had no intention [all chuckle] of touching her face. I already-, now, can she whip around at the speed of light-, oh she feels -

J: Nope, she is very slow. She won't hurt you at all.

D: Oh, look at those little legs.

H: Are they burrowers?

A: Oh, she is just beautiful.

J: They are! And that's one of the things that-, skinks are one of the largest groups of lizards - of true lizards - but they all tend to have short legs; not very long, pronounced necks; and they're all - most of them - are burrowers. The ones that have longer legs, they're going to be a little bit more arboreal, but these guys like to burrow a lot.

And they don't dig their own burrow because [gestures at Blueberry] -

H: Right. "How would I do that?"

A: Tiny little legs! [all laugh]

J: They're so little!

[H mimics short legs digging while panting]

J: Yeah, so they borrow burrows, and they do this really cool thing - they go down into a burrow and if it's inhabited by a venomous snake -

A: Sure.

J: - they could easily-, I mean she's like this little tube that they could easily eat her, if they're large enough. So, she has these really cool back legs where her feet can actually turn 180-degrees around? They can, they're like wrists back here?

A: That's fantastic!

J: Yeah, so she can just-, and that's so she can REVERSE out of there as fast as she can -

[group murmurs and chuckles]

A: Which isn't very fast.

J: And she's got this heavy-, it's not super fast, but it's faster than if she was trying to backtrack, and she has a really heavy body, so having-, turning her feet around and getting the grip to turn around, -

H: I would not want to be a blue-tongue in Austrailia. I mean, I just, I just feel like this- ...

A: She's a sitting duck.

H: Look at these dumb little legs! [laughter]

J: Yes! But that's why she has her tongue to be, like, [mimics movement with hands], "Don't eat me!"

H: Sure! "I'm scary."

J: And her tail-, and she can regenerate her tail, which takes quite a while to do, like a year. And they have to find food, because their tail is like their backup - their, like, their refrigerator -

 (24:00) to (26:00)

J - their, like, refrigerator - stores fat in their tail - 

A: Sure.

J: - so if they don't eat for a couple weeks, they're actually okay! Did she just lick her lips?

D: Yeah, she did.

A: She really is-, I've always loved lizards. She is gorgeous.

J: [to A] Would you like to hold her?

A: Not particularly. [group chuckles] I bet Don -

J: [to D] Would you like to hold her?

D: Sure!

J: If you want, you could create a cradle - [demonstrates to cradle arms], like a baby like that? That's the easiest.

D: Okay.

A: I don't want my cat to think I've been unfaithful. [chuckles]

J: You can put her on your arms. Just like that. [chuckles] There you go.

D: Wow.

J: Yeah. That's the easiest way.

A: Okay, now she's doing a lot of defensive posturing.

J: [laughs] She is NOT doing any defensive posturing. [they laugh]

D: Look at these, what are these right here?

J: Those are her ears! So, those are external ear holes, and she actually has muscles right here that she can flex and close up her holes, so when she is burrowing, -

D: Wow.

J: - she doesn't get any dirt in her ears.

D: God, that is cool.

J: Yeah!

A: Isn't she beautiful.

D: She feels-, [to A] do you want to feel it?

A: I have been feeling her.

D: Oh, okay.

A: Thank you! Thank you for that. [they chuckle]

J: [to H] Do you want to hold her?

H: I - [J transfers Blueberry to H]

J: There she goes.

D: I think she might eat you.

H: She's like, "I'm trying to walk, but my arms are real dumb." [laughter]

J: You're so tiny!

A: She blends with you nicely.

H: Yeah, we match.

J: Camouflage, yeah! So, in the wild, they would have... maybe "not-so-dumb-looking" feet.

H: Oh yeah, she's -

J: She's missing her toes.

A: Oh no! What happened to her?

J: The previous owner-, so we rescue our animals, and the previous owner did not give her the right substrate and humidity-level combination, and so they shed like all reptiles do, and the shed on the toes will also-, the skin on the toes will come off. But, if they don't, they're not humid enough and they don't rub it against stuff. it'll stick on there. And then, the next layer will grow under that, and also get stuck -

A: Aw, -

J: - over and over and over, cause constriction - the toes will die and fall off.

A: Wow.

H: Aw.

J: And so, she's lost all her toes, she has a half-a-toe there.

A: Hank, don't you feel a little bad now -


D: [chuckles]

A: - making fun of her toes?

H: I mean, I should have learned by now,

J: Her legs are the same, (?~25:59)[unintelligible], -

 (26:00) to (28:00)

J: - but her little feetses.

H: Oh, there she goes walking backwards, doing the backwards walk!

J: Backwards, go, go, go! She's tryin'! [laughs]

A: That is fantastic.

D: Whoaa.

H: That's a weird way for feet to wooork. That was weird!

A: Now, we had skinks as kids, -

J: Okay, yeah! Well, - 

A: - and they were [gestures short length].

J: There's a LOT of-, there's over 1500 different species of skinks.

A: Wow. 

J: And she is the largest of the blue-tongues, but she's not the largest skink in the world [sets Blueberry on table] - 

H: [aside to Blueberry, high pitch] Run!

J: - the prehensile-tailed skink is. And they're, like, an inch or two longer than her.

H: Okay.

J: So they're not massively bigger, but - 

A: Well, Blueberry, you are beautiful.

D: Yeah.

A: That color is gorgeous.

H: It's a great tongue, too.

J: Oh, I love her tongue! Yeah, so - guess what her favorite food is?

H: [whispering] (?~26:39)[unintelligible] - blueberries.

J: It's blueberries! [all laugh]

A: Wow! So, her tongue really isn't blue; she just eats blueberries.

H: Yeah, that's what it is.

J: She eats suckers all the time.

H: Yeah. [laughter]

J: [gestures to Blueberry laying on her hand] She's really comfy right there. She's just gonna hang out.

H: Good!

A: Well, she is a lovely girl.

J: [to A] Are you sure you don't want to hold her?

A: Okay.

H: [wheezes] Ha!

J: So yeah, you cross your arms, I'll just lay her right on your arms.

A: Peaches will be pissed, 'cos she's -

H: Oh, no -

A: [to Blueberry] Don't you bite me, darlin'.

J: She will not bite you, so she would only bite -

A: Oh, she feels good!

J: Isn't she cool??

D: Yeah.

J: Like, cool, ACTUALLY -

A: It's like a massage.

H: Yeah, [as Blueberry] "I'll give you that forearm massage there," -

J: And look, her little arms are like, "Yeah..."

A: That is lovely! [group chuckles] What you're massaging there.

J: Oh, she's smelling you a lot! She's trying to walk.

A: [laughs] She is, and I've got her sort of in a -

J: She's trying to walk, [chuckles]

H: It's hard to be a-

J: I know, she's-, a lot of them won't even use their back legs, they get a little bit lazy, and they'll just drag their body with their front legs.

A: She is fascinating.

H: I mean, how to do you-, how does this animal catch prey in the wild?

J: Um -

H: Are they just like - [mimics short, fast gait with hands, group laughs]

J: They run after it! 

A: But beetles are slower than shit, -

J: Yeah, exactly -

A: We're talking snails, here.

J: - snails. Their favorite food is nails and leaves! I mean, -

[loud group laughter]

H: All right, snails and leaves. I can imagine Blueberry catching a snail or a leaf.

A: Only if the wind -

 (28:00) to (30:00)

A: Only if the wind isn't blowing.

J: But it's so funny! When we feed her, we'll feed her a mealworm or something, it's a little beetle larvae, and it's moving so slow, and she'll go over and - [mimics slow bite]... miss it. [laughter] And then she [mimics slow bite] misses it again. And when she gets it in her mouth, she'll shake it - you know, like how dogs play-, will shake a toy like that? She'll shake it like this - [slowly sways head]

[group laughs]

A: That's wonderful!

D: Wow!

H: It's just like a vestigial shake. Like, [grits teeth, sways head, affects voice] "My ancestors shook prey, 

J: [affects voice] - "This is how they did it, guys."

H: "- and so I also shake prey."

[group laughs]

D: Do you develop a relationship with any of these animals?

J: Depends on what kind of animal it is, but yes.

D: Uh-huh?

J: And sometimes it's a reciprocal relationship, and sometimes, it's more like, "I know what this animal likes, and they'll do better if I just give that to them." And it's not like Blueberry knows me, and like, you know - as long as you hold her appropriately, she's content.

A: She doesn't run to the door when you come in. [group laughs] I use that term loosely.

J: Well, not like, particularly me as an individual -

H: Just whoever is giving food?

J: Exactly, yeah, yeah. So, she does recognize humans as a food source, not to EAT us, -

A: Whoa!

J: - but like, we're gonna bring -

A: Let's rephrase that. [laughter]

J: But there are some animals that are really social that only-, that have bonded with me, specifically. And so that's an important part of their social structure for their needs and their happiness, too. Yeah.

D: Great.

H: Well, we gotta wrap up.

J: I know, we have to end this sometime.

H: We could talk about Blueberry forever.

A: I wish. Well, Blueberry is gorgeous. And I'm glad she wasn't a giant spider. [group chuckles]

H: Yeah.

A: Because I love and respect spiders, but if one crawls on me -

H: Don't need one -

A: - I get a little twitchy.

H: Yeah.

J: We do have a tarantula -

A: I bet you do -

J: - named "Fluffy." [group laughs]

D: Fluffy!

J: She's adorable.

A: I bet she is.

H: I know Fluffy; Fluffy's great.

A: I bet she is lovely.

J: She's great.

H: Thanks, Blueberry; thanks, Jessi!

 (30:00) to (30:37)

H: Thanks, Blueberry; thanks, Jessi!

J: Thank you!

H: Jessi's at where you can find out about aall the... things that - 

A: Fantastic.

J: All of the things!

H: Yeah, well - 

J: About animals.

H: Yeah! And the work that you do. That just-, it's really great.

A: It was fun to hear about it and learn about - 

D: Yeah, yeah really.

J: Thanks, guys. Thanks for holding my lizard. And being fascinated about her.

A: Oh, it was our pleasure!

D: Yeah, thank you, Blueberry.


H: And thank you guys for watching. You can always find us at Thiiis was a fun one!