The Human Biology Collection

The Human Biology Collection


This episode is brought to 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 splash pads, it’s got this beautiful 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 going to go check it out! I’m also super out of breath because
the altitude is really high here. I gotta go! The Denver Museum of Nature and Science
has a lot of what you would expect in the collections of a natural history museum, zoology
and anthropology, awesome earth sciences collections with vertebrate and plant fossils, and minerals. On the public side they have a gem exhibition
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’s understandable that we would study ourselves the same way we study other organisms
and communities around the planet. Dr. Nicole Garneau is the museum’s 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. Emily: So Nicole, we are in a collection
that is nothing like a collection we have at the Field Museum, what ‘ where are we? Nicole: We’re in the health sciences
collection in the Denver Musuem of Nature and Science. E: Okay. N: So, going along with the theme of humans
are a part of the tree of life, it’s really important for us to study our own biology. Not necessarily in the human health sense,
so it’s a kind of a misnomer, it’s called ‘health,’ but it’s really understanding. From body, to system to tissue, to cell, to
DNA, what does it mean to be human? E: So, 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 an educational collection. It includes things from full human bodies
down to specimens like this, which allows us to see systems working together. E: The — what? N: Correct. E: What? You have an arm. N: We do! And 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 very personally relevant, and makes you very curious about ‘how does
my body work?’ E: How is this prepared? I mean, I think this is another reason why
I haven’t seen anything like this in a museum. This is not a normal preparation technique. N: Right, anyone who works in a wet collection
for example, which is typically going to be soft tissue and you put it in formaldehyde
or alcohol, there’s still going to be aspects of decay occurring, so the collection is not
really kept forever. Plastination eliminates that because anywhere
there was water, is now plastic. You have something that you can use for generations
and generations and generations for educational purposes. E: It looks likes a plastic model, like
somebody had a mold but to know that this was- N: Real. This was a real person E:.I kinda wanna touch it. N: Go ahead, and grab your glove. You’ll probably just need one. Plastic is kind of pliable so when you feel
it, it’s kind of hard but it has that plastic feel to it. E: Eugh. N: And that’s kind of what you want, because
you want something that’s not 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: And the let’s dive deeper. This is looking directly into the body, like
you are doing an x-ray, except for, again, this is real tissue. E: They kind of look like pizzas, I’m
not gonna lie. This is a slice of a body? N: Yeah, so these are different, these are
different slices of the body. The preparation is the bodies are frozen,
and donor intent for educational purposes. And then slices happen and those slices go
into baggies and those baggies get a different type of plastic, and acrylic based plastic,
and dyes the bind, different tissues, and you get something like this. This is one of my favorites, which is a transverse
slice of a human hand. E: Oh my gosh! It’s like my hand. N: So, if I put this on top, it would be — wow
this is really good match for you. E: So how is this information being used? Besides this being a really cool and interesting
collection, how can looking at this inform some aspect of science? N: We use them mostly for education. These types of specimens get incorporated
into all of our programming about the human body. Everything from little guys, the wee ones,
they come through, all the way through high school students. And then like I said, we work really closely
with communities that tend to fall into that health sciences area, who are interested in
anatomy, for them to have more understanding and access to research and help them do their
jobs better. So, medical students, massage therapists,
it runs the gamut, sports therapist. E: But then you have even smaller things? N: We do. E: We start really big and then we’re shrinking. N: At this level we’re now diving into
tissues and cells. These are also slices but on a really small
scale, and these are slices of tissue. This particular collection that we’re working
on right now with our students is the intestines. The nice thing about this collection is it
has the normal histology, so you know, things are going good! Basic science, right? But it also has pathology. Which is what happens when things go wrong
at the cellular level. So, we’re able to understand, digitize, and
make available for research purposes. Both the, here’s how normal human cells work
and here’s what happens when things go awry. E: And then you have another collection that
you are building that is even smaller than the cellular level? N: It is! It is! So, we have thousands and thousands of these
little tubes that are small but powerful. So, this is pure DNA. So, when people come to my lab, which I hear
you’re going to do, they do a cheek swab to get their cheek cells. We get rid of everything in the cheek cells
but save the DNA in the liquid solution so we can study the DNA. E: So, you are actively allowing museum visitors
and people coming to this collection to contribute their DNA to this greater understanding of
human biology. N: This represents a person who came
to our lab as a quest of the museum and is now officially a part of the museums research
collection. E: I want — Can I be a part of the museum
collection? N: We would love you to be a part of
it! The goal of the sour science study is, truly,
the big goal is to figure out 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. A reason why we have this community based
aspect and the citizen science aspect of our work is because we want science to be accessible
and personally relevant to people. And concurrently have people feel pretty jazzed
about learning how their own body works and genetics. E: I’m jazzed. N: Yeah! E: I’m ready. Let’s do this. N: Alright, so we already did the informed
consent, you’ve agreed to participate in this research which is awesome. And we’re going to 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, 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
perfect. E: Okay. N: So, go ahead and take those off while
you do the rest of the instructions so you don’t have to wear them. When we want to study just taste, we want
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 samples will feel the same in your mouth, they’ll feel
like water. We’re removing visual cues, so they’re just
clear, there are no colors. And sound is 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 carrot. N: Correct! So we use all of our five senses for flavor,
we’re just studying taste. So, that why we use the nose clips. 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 it around for five seconds, spit it out, and mark how intense
the sour is. E: Okay. Here we go. That was pretty weak, I gotta say 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 and they didn’t
get the ratios correct, but you still give them a dollar because – N: It’s a kid. E: It’s lemonade. N: Now, you’re going to say how much you liked
that solution. E: I slightly liked it because I like citrusy
things. N: Perfect, so now you can take off your
nose clips, you can take a deep breath in and out. Rinse your palate with some water. And we’re gonna hit next. So, we have questions we’re going to answer
throughout, and this 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: laughs N: So, we’re going to go to sample E. E: Okay. And I put back the -? N: Yup, the reason we have it like this,
again, is so it’s double-blind. I don’t know which of the, so we’re testing
five different sour molecules to figure out of those sour molecules, if all sours created
equal. E: Okay. N: So, the reason that we have those randomized
is so that you don’t know which is which, and I don’t know so I can’t kind of prime
you. E: Is this malic acid? I don’t know- I don’t even know what malic
acid is. That was a little more sour. I’m going to go with, like middle of the line
sourness. N: Alright, so go ahead and take a sip of
water. E: Alright, power through. N: Swallow without the nose clips on. E: Okay, nose clips. N: Sniff test. All good? E: Meh. N: Alright, take a deep breath. E: That was tart. I don’t know if it was quite sour, almost
like a sweet tart. N: Okay. E: And I slightly liked that, I’m going to
slightly like all of these. N: That’s good. That’s fine. We’re gonna ask you some questions about food
adventurousness, and that’s how likely are you to try new foods. And that might be a factor in how you may
rate something, 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 am 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 lunch the same lunch I eat every day in Chicago,
so. N: That was a good answer then. E: Alright, I’m ready. That was really – that one’s really tart. Kind of puckering a little bit. N: (laughs) E: My mouth is suddenly very dry. Okay, I’m gonna, I don’t know if that’s sour
but I’m gonna put that, that was a little bit more extreme. Put it a little bit over the middle line. N: Go ahead and get some water in there and
we are going to do the DNA sample. E: Woo! N: We’re going to collect cheek cells, so
these cheek cells right now, hundreds of thousands of them, you just swallow them. So, instead of swallowing them, we’re just
going to take some of them, of course with your permission. E: Yeah. N: And de-identified so no one can use your
DNA against you. E: So, my name is not going to be attached
to this sample? N: No, you are a visitor ID number. You are going to pick a side, don’t switch
sides. Try not to touch your tongue or your teeth,
and the reason we want cells is because cells have DNA in them. Your DNA is like a cookbook for your
body. So a cookbook has recipes, your DNA genome
has recipes, they’re called genes. And just like if you had 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 chocolate cake turns out. So, that’s what happens in human genetics,
these little tiny changes can mean that we have changes in ways that we can see like
hair color and eye color, and ways that we can’t see like how we experience taste and
detect taste. Go ahead and now put that in there, well done! E: (sings) doo doo doo dooooo. 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 for the 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 a part
of our museum forever. E: Yay! That’s always what I ever wanted! N: So, we’re good to move on to the last taste
test. E: Okay! Alright, last one. N: We did it. E: Not gonna lie that was a little,
little on the disappointing side. In terms of like, flavor explosion. N: You really wanted things to escalate! E: Yeah! I really, I was really expecting, I was kind
of hyped that you were like ‘You might not like some of these things’ N: Everyone’s an individual so we have people
who come in who 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 that are going on here, let’s
figure out if genetics is a part of that. E: I’m gonna say that I slightly liked that,
because I guess I’m just a fan of acidic tastes. Can I take these off? 13:43 N: You may. Because you are a part of our study, we have
a where do you fit board. And that board has a dot for it you love sour,
take it or leave it, or if you hate sour. So, this is kind of nice because, real quick,
guests can come in and see that holy cow, eight to twelve year love sour, and then you
can see the different kind of data points and snapshots. E: Cool! Thanks! N: Alright, and that’s yours, thanks for participating! E: I’m part of science. N: You are a part of science, and you’re a
part of the museum’s permanent research collection. E: Yes!