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Ep.204: Dr. Robert DeSalle, American Museum of Natural History

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep.204: Dr. Robert DeSalle, American Museum of Natural History

Ep.204: Dr. Robert DeSalle, American Museum of Natural History

We begin in the classroom at the Museum of Natural History with molecular biologist Dr. Robert DeSalle discussing biogeography. This serves as an appetizer for our sit down in the professors office when we discuss how all of that affects cannabis.
In the office, we discuss his work on both fruit flies and caviar to discover the scope of work that remains on cannabis. Both in class and in office, we discuss Krakatoa to better understand how the 1883 eruption can inform the cannabis plant and industry.
A note- Robert has an active office, so doors do open and close. Episode 199 with Mowgli Holmes is cited often and works a great companion episode to this one.

Transcript:

Speaker 1: molecular biologist Dr Robert to salle We begin in the classroom at the Museum of Natural History Discussing biogeography serves as an appetizer for sit down in the professor's office when we discussed how all that affects cannabis in the office. We discussed he's working on both fruit flies and caviar to discover the scope of work that remains on cannabis both in class and in office. We discussed Krakatoa to better understand how the 80 slash 83 eruption can inform the cannabis plant and industry. A note, Robert has an active office, so doors do open and close. Episode one 99 with Mowgli. Holmes is cited often and works as a great companion episode to this one. Welcome to cannabis economy. I'm your host Seth Adler. Check us out on social with the handle can economy. That's two ends of the word economy from the Museum of natural history. Rob To south

Speaker 2: the 19 sixties in pushed a plate. Tectonics wasn't the first to mention it or first to propose it. Snyder Pellegrini in 18, 58 did. Um, and, uh, vegner more or less reasonable, resurfaced it and refined it and all through the early part of the 20th century, he tried to get people to get it and he was considered a real renegade idiot. Real actual word idiot was used to describe them by some of his colleagues, but it turns out he won because it took it. We have a system of plate tectonics here on our planet. And, and he was absolutely right. And once we understood those, the plate tectonics, as we talked about last class, you have a lot to, a lot of information to work with to understand how things got distributed across the, across the globe. And indeed without it, I'm a historical biogeography witness changed as much as it did in the 19 sixties, 19 fifties and 19 sixties.

Speaker 2: And then as we've seen, um, uh, Willie came along in the 19 fifties and reformed how we do systematics from a, uh, an expert driven a way of saying how things are related to each other to a data driven way. And also this other guy, crazy. We are crazy that, um, worked, uh, worked in South America, was also called crazy and an idiot by a lot of scientists. Um, he started to look at what's called by carrying its biogeography and we'll talk about that in some detail. I'm Evelyn Hutchinson who spent most of his career at Yale University. I'm the, uh, was really, um, uh, responsible for the major shift in how biogeography was viewed in an ecological context. Hutchinson was a geologist and a, I'm sorry, a ecologist and a s mostly studied the effect of each of ecology's on species distribution. And so he was really interested in that and, and really tried to, uh, bring those, those, those two things together.

Speaker 2: Macarthur and Wilson came up with the equal every theory of island biogeography. And then what happened then this very, very specific kind of have this very specific topic. Island biogeography became a focus, um, to explain species richness on islands. So islands became really the main focus of a lot of scientists because they were, as we'll see here in a second, they're contained and, and the geology tells you a lot about the history of the island, which then allows you to make inferences about the history of species on the islands. Um, let's talk about biogeographic specifics and all biogeographic patterns are influenced by the geographic template that's really easy to get if you have a terrestrial animal. Um, the world of possibilities are the that they live on. And so if you have a map of the land, you have a geographic template to put them on and distributions and patterns, geographic variation of species that can communities than you assume result from a spatial variation environments, responses by Otis to the variation interactions among species and the Earth's dynamic history. And, and you make some assumptions about how these things are, are distributed. And this helps you think of things in terms of modeling and things. So climate, um, wind patterns, precipitation patterns, soils, uh, that, that change as a result of succession, primary succession changes in the characteristics of water.

Speaker 2: These are especially prevalent or especially important when you're talking about microbial biogeography or microbial eco, geographic kinds of things, um, and, but they all are also important that a more complex organismal level, so plants will respond to precipitation patterns and plants will respond to the nutrients in soils that get, get changed as a result of succession and things like that. And so one of the most important tools of a bible geography as the species distribution. And we can, we can point out that all species have a unique geographic range. Our geographic ranges, everything, uh, the geographic range of, of, uh, say, uh, uh, tropical beetle is wherever it is in the tropics, etc. And as I mentioned earlier, some of the biogeography in this context is really cool and it's cool because of geologic events like the, a volcanic eruption of krakatoa in 18, 83, which just completely covered the island of krakatoa in, in ash and lava and, and in, in effect, sterilize the icon.

Speaker 2: OkAy? So more than likely not all the microbes were eliminated from the island, but certainly all the larger mammal bird or insect lIfe on the, on the island were just wiped out. So this is a really cool experimental system, right? If you couldn't ask for anything better to try to study succession to, to study how things come. and so what scientists have done over the last, um, I think they did it up until 1940, where, where the ecology seem to start to ecology cracker to us to start to stabilize it. They were able to, uh, look at, at um, the, the kinds of dispersal that occurred in getting species aren't to crack a toe. And you can see that the total is quite impressive and less than 50 years or about 50 years, uh, about 200 9,270 species were, were introduced to the, to the, uh, to the island that, that would be this, this, this diagram is plants, birds, about 31 species we're were distributed to, came to the island and recolonize the Ireland.

Speaker 1: molecular biologist Dr Robert to salle We begin in the classroom at the Museum of Natural History Discussing biogeography serves as an appetizer for sit down in the professor's office when we discussed how all that affects cannabis in the office. We discussed he's working on both fruit flies and caviar to discover the scope of work that remains on cannabis both in class and in office. We discussed Krakatoa to better understand how the 80 slash 83 eruption can inform the cannabis plant and industry. A note, Robert has an active office, so doors do open and close. Episode one 99 with Mowgli. Holmes is cited often and works as a great companion episode to this one. Welcome to cannabis economy. I'm your host Seth Adler. Check us out on social with the handle can economy. That's two ends of the word economy from the Museum of natural history. Rob To south

Speaker 2: the 19 sixties in pushed a plate. Tectonics wasn't the first to mention it or first to propose it. Snyder Pellegrini in 18, 58 did. Um, and, uh, vegner more or less reasonable, resurfaced it and refined it and all through the early part of the 20th century, he tried to get people to get it and he was considered a real renegade idiot. Real actual word idiot was used to describe them by some of his colleagues, but it turns out he won because it took it. We have a system of plate tectonics here on our planet. And, and he was absolutely right. And once we understood those, the plate tectonics, as we talked about last class, you have a lot to, a lot of information to work with to understand how things got distributed across the, across the globe. And indeed without it, I'm a historical biogeography witness changed as much as it did in the 19 sixties, 19 fifties and 19 sixties.

Speaker 2: And then as we've seen, um, uh, Willie came along in the 19 fifties and reformed how we do systematics from a, uh, an expert driven a way of saying how things are related to each other to a data driven way. And also this other guy, crazy. We are crazy that, um, worked, uh, worked in South America, was also called crazy and an idiot by a lot of scientists. Um, he started to look at what's called by carrying its biogeography and we'll talk about that in some detail. I'm Evelyn Hutchinson who spent most of his career at Yale University. I'm the, uh, was really, um, uh, responsible for the major shift in how biogeography was viewed in an ecological context. Hutchinson was a geologist and a, I'm sorry, a ecologist and a s mostly studied the effect of each of ecology's on species distribution. And so he was really interested in that and, and really tried to, uh, bring those, those, those two things together.

Speaker 2: Macarthur and Wilson came up with the equal every theory of island biogeography. And then what happened then this very, very specific kind of have this very specific topic. Island biogeography became a focus, um, to explain species richness on islands. So islands became really the main focus of a lot of scientists because they were, as we'll see here in a second, they're contained and, and the geology tells you a lot about the history of the island, which then allows you to make inferences about the history of species on the islands. Um, let's talk about biogeographic specifics and all biogeographic patterns are influenced by the geographic template that's really easy to get if you have a terrestrial animal. Um, the world of possibilities are the that they live on. And so if you have a map of the land, you have a geographic template to put them on and distributions and patterns, geographic variation of species that can communities than you assume result from a spatial variation environments, responses by Otis to the variation interactions among species and the Earth's dynamic history. And, and you make some assumptions about how these things are, are distributed. And this helps you think of things in terms of modeling and things. So climate, um, wind patterns, precipitation patterns, soils, uh, that, that change as a result of succession, primary succession changes in the characteristics of water.

Speaker 2: These are especially prevalent or especially important when you're talking about microbial biogeography or microbial eco, geographic kinds of things, um, and, but they all are also important that a more complex organismal level, so plants will respond to precipitation patterns and plants will respond to the nutrients in soils that get, get changed as a result of succession and things like that. And so one of the most important tools of a bible geography as the species distribution. And we can, we can point out that all species have a unique geographic range. Our geographic ranges, everything, uh, the geographic range of, of, uh, say, uh, uh, tropical beetle is wherever it is in the tropics, etc. And as I mentioned earlier, some of the biogeography in this context is really cool and it's cool because of geologic events like the, a volcanic eruption of krakatoa in 18, 83, which just completely covered the island of krakatoa in, in ash and lava and, and in, in effect, sterilize the icon.

Speaker 2: OkAy? So more than likely not all the microbes were eliminated from the island, but certainly all the larger mammal bird or insect lIfe on the, on the island were just wiped out. So this is a really cool experimental system, right? If you couldn't ask for anything better to try to study succession to, to study how things come. and so what scientists have done over the last, um, I think they did it up until 1940, where, where the ecology seem to start to ecology cracker to us to start to stabilize it. They were able to, uh, look at, at um, the, the kinds of dispersal that occurred in getting species aren't to crack a toe. And you can see that the total is quite impressive and less than 50 years or about 50 years, uh, about 200 9,270 species were, were introduced to the, to the, uh, to the island that, that would be this, this, this diagram is plants, birds, about 31 species we're were distributed to, came to the island and recolonize the Ireland.

Speaker 2: I'm not sure if there were mammals and I don't think they looked at the insects, so, um, but nonetheless, the growth of, of, of, uh, of succession on this island was with, was pretty spectacular and could be followed quite, quite closely. One of the major focus focus focus I have of biogeography is to find congruence between biotic and her history. So we want to know to what extent are the distributions that tax, a reflection of, of earth's history are reflection of the, of the drift of continence or a reflection of the movement of glaciers or, or a reflection of the, of the changing of river courses, things like that. Um, to what extent have those things influenced the distributions of taxa, the biotic part, and to what extent can we reconstruct the history of geographic changes on the earth's surface. So we know, we know that africa and south America broke up fentanyl and broke up and the two continental park, but we also know that there were other parts, continents on the planet moving apart too. And by using biotic indicators, we can oftentimes a figure out the secrets of, of those geographic geologic events. Let's talk about reconstructing the history of biogas. And, and this is really an interesting part of biogeography and interesting part of modern genetics.

Speaker 2: So there was this idea about the center origin, uh, for all, all tax on the planet. And, and this was kind of replaced by this way of thinking about hierarchical changes in biogas and hierarchical changes in buyer geographic regions or hierarchical connections of bio geographic regions rather than say an origin center of origin paradigm with things radiate, radiate out from that center of origin. So, so the center of origin paradigm is kind of like, if you think about it in the context of philosophies, it's kind of like a star phylogeny and it could be your no hypothesis really, things just kind of burst out like this or did they go through or did they go to jump dispersal and, and the patterns from vicarious and jumped dispersal are going to be really different from the center of origin idea. So understanding how, uh, these lineages changed from tectonic events and vicarious is, becomes really important and this is where crazy that comes back in.

Speaker 2: Um, uh, he came up with this idea called penn biogeography and what he did was he a constructed, instead of a bio biomes or bio geographic regions or eco geographic regions, he constructed what are called tracts. And these tracks show connections between organisms that are, uh, that in current time are separated and based on distributions of, of the endemic species, he could, uh, come up with some idea of how the continent's separated. And this is his idea of penn biogeography. It didn't have a, um, a phylogenetic context to it, but it did have a data rich idea in it.

Speaker 2: And, uh, when he came out with this, people called him crazy, especially in the fight in a phylogenetic, systematic, cladistic community because he tried to pitch this in the artistic community and they weren't having things that are being looked at now a days are things like ecological biogeography island, biogeography and macaroni ecology, which is ecology of fossils, fossils of things. So again, it's a vibrant field. And geography is, uh, and uh, what we, what has happened to it is that it's become a pretty objective field because of the development of phylogenetic tools and because of the development of molecular tools that can give us refine views of phylogeny of organisms, independent of their geographic distributions. And then you are able to test hypotheses about geographic distributions with those, those independent phylogeny is any questions.

Speaker 3: Can I ask a question? At the very end? You said that this is essentially objective. Now this is getting to be an objective space. Uh, but in the beginning you started with the concepts of the fact that earliest folKs were looked at as idiots along the way even crazy. So is there a counterintuitive thinking to the fact that this is an objective reality now? Sure.

Speaker 2: The area, the vicarious bad geographers started doing their thing in the 19 eighties. Do not like these new likelihood methods. So there are still, I mean, that's the way science science works. And especially in this field, right? I mean, we've seen this over and over were were philosophical kind of political reasons come in for people to prefer, prefer doing things one way or the other. So yeah, I mean the word idiot is used a lot in this field to scientific term. It's, it's, yeah.

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Speaker 3: I mean, I really appreciate you. Uh, let me kind of sit in on your class here. We're at the american museum of natural history, which is a, one of my favorite places on earth. I'm mowgli holmes. Put us in touch with each other. You have done and are doing some interesting stuff. Let's just start where we left off with him. Uh, how did you, uh, meet the two of you?

Speaker 2: Is one of my students in a class at columbia university and a for the class we are having students do a project and the project involves understanding a thinking group and understand the relationships of, of things in the group

Speaker 4: of plants, animals, whatever. And uh, it was obvious from a doggies performance in the class that he was a natural, that understanding genealogy. So that's how we got of hooked up. Yeah.

Speaker 3: Alright. So he, he's a, uh, you know, it comes naturally to him. Um, there's, there's a um, it's very direct in a way. It's a, it's an objective sciences. What, uh, I just learned in your class, right?

Speaker 4: Oh yeah, absolutely. What we're trying to do, most of the things we do here, new museum is reconstruct the relationships with things and to make sure that the names of things are valid. Those are two of the most important jobs that we do here at the museum and the whole cannabis scene really need something liKe that.

Speaker 3: Absolutely. He mentioned specifically that, uh, you know, a strain, a well known strain, um, that everyone might think is strain a, um, might not be strain a strain, a could be a completely different plan entirely.

Speaker 4: Yeah. That happens a lot with commercial products too. I've worked on caviar before in a lot of the labels on caviar cans or are inaccurate to say to say the least. So that happens a lot of times with commercial products and, and again, if you're going to have a valid, viable commercial product that I'm making sure that it's the right thing is a pretty good first step.

Speaker 3: It's key if you, if you're focused on facts and truth, uh, you know, you want to have things right. How might this happen? In other words, you've studied caviar. So let's go there. Um, you know, give us a sense of maybe something that you found that was purely inaccurate and, and how you found that it was in fact an accurate

Speaker 4: two things with caviar. One was the species that we're working with that make caviar, that people eat were not very well worked out. And so a fisherman catching fish, getting caviar and calling it something that they thought was right, but it was actually wrong the other way. It's just pure up fraud and fraud is, is a study that we did. We detected about half of, of the bad taxonomy, kind of a thing and half fraud now with cannabis, um, that, that could either be fraud or it could just be somebody who made a mistake who propagated the mistake. And a lot of times when the labs where you're breeding things, organisms are pretty sneaky, especially you would think of plants wouldn't be that sneaky, but they're especially sneaky because their gametes are so small and can move around in the air that you couldn't have had a contaminant. And that's the third way I would bet that that's probably what's happened with this in this count as kid.

Speaker 3: Okay. So, so there are those three ways. And um, you know, also something that you're pointed out in this class was that plants don't act like animals. So take us through that.

Speaker 4: Yeah, no, that they. Plants don't do a lot of things. Animals do, they don't eat. They essentially spend most of their adult bites, sedentary, they're stuck in the ground and um, they uh, tend to, I'm a duplicate their genomes a lot more than, than animals too. So there was a lot more room for innovation in general, innovation in plants. Plants eventually do move around, as I said, because their gametes can float around, but, but they have to do it in a completely different way than animals in. And their reproduction is oftentimes highly dependent on animals for dispersing seeds and for getting pollen back and forth to plants. So in that, in that context are very different kinds of things and animals.

Speaker 3: Yeah, no, absolutely. You said they use a, uh, animals to, to, to help them dispersed. So you brought up the concept of clustered versus disbursement. Just take us through that and how it relates to plants and what that actually means. What's the basis of that?

Speaker 4: Yeah. Well a lot of plants or are a, do this, do long range dispersal. They can disperse their seeds, their gametes, la a long way. Um, animals or are restricted by how far they can run or walk or fly. But plants can, can, can get on a long, long way. A huge, huge amounts of distance can be covered in, say, a plant dispersal event. But um, yeah, I mean that's, that's pretty much the, the idea there.

Speaker 3: How, how is it wind if it's not, if it's not animals, how, how can they, you know, in

Speaker 4: a lot of cases it's wind and a lot of cases it's an holes eating fruit. I'm pooping out the seeds when they suffocate. In some cases it's, it's burger's about plants have, have, have come, come up with all kinds of tricks for, for dispersal. So some plants, some plants helicopter mean it's, it's a pretty amazing number of ways that brands have figured out how that kind of move around.

Speaker 3: Okay. And you brought up the concept of a star philology and you know, that's directly speaks to a malley's galaxy. SO

Speaker 4: yeah, a galaxy, uh, has more resolution than a star. Phylogeny star phylogeny is just something where you don't have the relationships. If anything, what happened was you have an ancestor and that ancestor gave rise to tons of things and none of those things are more closely related to, to anything else. Um, uh, so, uh, you end up with, with, uh, something without any structure at all. And the cannabis galaxy has a lot of structure to because you can see in space various strains that makes sense of the, that they're related to each other, that they are a similar, more similar to each other or that they have some common ancestry with each other. Um, so, uh, you know, the, the way, the way that we like to look at this is, is if cannabis had a comp, have a single common ancestor back before people started to use it and it just exploded and went to different parts of the planet, then you'd see that in a star phylogeny. Um, but, but, uh, the alternative is you see hierarchy, you see branching of different strains. And what this means is that a different strains are more closely related to each other. Then they are to other streets. That's all it means.

Speaker 3: And how much does this have to do with geography or not? Oh,

Speaker 4: it might have a lot to do with geography. Um, again, you need to know where theSe plants are from. And so for instance, if you have a clump of, of cannabis strains that fall off in a particular part of the three dimensional space and galaxy and they're all from Mexico, then you have a pretty good idea that what happened is that all of those plants were bred in Mexico and there the area from where from which they come or wednesday come isn't executed. So you can make these really nice correlations of, of geography with how things are related to each other.

Speaker 3: I to go ahead and go back

Speaker 4: to a caviar now. Right? So understanding that a geography obviously plays into specifically more research. How did you approach a well, the egg and where and from wins a game. Yeah, with the caviar system, with any system where you're trying to identify things, you need a database. so it's kinda like the code is database based that police use here in the United States where you know, you have all these fingerprints on file or you have all these dna fingerprints are on file and whenever you have a crime scene you take a fingerprint and you try to match it to something in a database and that's the same idea behind the caviar or work. And it's the exact same thing behind the cannabis work and tamales credit. The most important aspect of building the database is getting the organisms, getting the seeds. And uh, my understanding is that the seed collection for this particular project is spectacular, uh, with, with caviar is much easier because you only need 24 slash 25 samples because that's the number of species that are out there. Cannabis, it's in the thousands. So you have a much bigger, a tougher, harder problem with cameras,

Speaker 3: tougher, harder problem. It is federally illegal, uh, however it's illegal where maglis doing his research that plays into it. That also plays into something that you brought up, which is, um, uh, you, you either set it begrudgingly or I heard it begrudgingly that politics is, does rear its head and science.

Speaker 4: Yeah. This is a cannabis is a wonderful case of that or not so wonderful case of it. You know, as you pointed out, the only reason that mowgli could, could put this dataset together is that the restrictions on cannabis in Oregon and Washington and Colorado were lifted in and you could now have these things in one place and that's what was needed. Now, from what I understand, there's problems with transporting some of these things across state lines too, but I'm 100 percent certain at my ugliest has done everything above board and putting together this data dataset. So, so, you know, politics has had a huge impact on this. It has a huge impact on any kind of biology we do.

Speaker 3: We'll speak to that generally. How has your, how that affects. I would just go back back

Speaker 4: to the caviar example. The species that make caviar that we are rushing a former soviet republics and to get to those areas is really difficult if you're an american, you know, if you're working on something that, that lives in Cuba for the past five decades, we have not been able to go to Cuba to work on those things. Now it's open and we can get to get the get to Cuba, but for the past 50 years we've lost all that research and, and, and this happens over and over and over across the globe.

Speaker 3: What do you say? We've lost that research, you know, how much of it do you, do you feel might be untouched, like the krakatoa example that you brought up?

Speaker 4: Yeah. Um, I, the, the thing that we all have to keep in mind about the last 50 years, the last century is that is that climate change has really had a huge impact on the planet and to be able to watch how that happens in a, in a, in a area like Cuba or in areas across the globe would be wonderful information to have. But unfortunately we don't have that information because of the politics and, and, and, you know, we need to really be able to follow a lot of these organisms and understand what they're doing through this decline of, uh, of, of a global climate, you know. So

Speaker 3: does, does uh, Cuba because it hasn't been researched. Does that give it, it gives you more answers or is, does it give you more questions?

Speaker 4: Good. Let me, let me clarify something. Cuba has been researched by cuban scientists and they're quite, you're quite good and very good scientists, but that information has not been released to us and now that information will be released and, and in, in, in addition to the cuban scientists weren't able to communicate with us. And so their science suffered too, right? As a result of that. So now that we can come, we can talk to each other and have a interchange with each other. The, the biology of cuban or organisms I think is going to become much more clear. And it's a wonderful place. It's a beautiful place. Know I've never been. But I have a couple of close colleagues who have been several times and they just come back, reinvigorated every time they come back.

Speaker 3: All right. Sticking with places. I'm not necessarily clean slate as far as science, but a clean slate as far as collaboration. I do want to talk about krakatoa that being a clean slate as far as science is concerned. Talked to Speak to that and what can be learned from just, you know.

Speaker 4: Yeah. Well we have very, very rare cases where we want to study how the organisms colonize places, how would, knowing what organisms come in first and then whatever his was coming in after that and use the first organisms is and so on and so on. Knowing that is a really important part of understanding the ecology of something. And so with crack taught, there was a huge volcanic eruption would be about a hundred and 50 years ago. And this, this almost completely sterilize the island. And, but over the last 50 years or over the first 50 years since the, the eruption, scientists follow the, uh, the, uh, scientists followed the recolonization of the island as if it was a sterile environment, which was, which it was. And being able to do something like that is really kind of cool, but it's also the kinds of things that, um, is relevant to a commercial plant like cannabis, cannabis moves around and, and moves around because humans disperse it. It also moves around because it has natural dispersal. And understanding that dispersal becomes very, very important. Just like understanding what the sequence of events from krakatoa was, is a very important way to think about ecology and how organisms make their living

Speaker 3: for a non scientist. Uh, all I can think of is galapagos. All I can think of is know origin species. So if we're sticking with place as the basis for the question number one, have you been. No, I've been to the galapagos number two. Uh, you know, no matter if a, a listener has read the book or not, why would you know? Why is that a magical place that it was

Speaker 4: island systems or are always magical and that's because of their isolation from other other places. Um, another really wonderful island system is the or the home. Both of both of the, both the hawaiian islands in the galapagos are what are called our archipelagos and they formed sequentially over time. Um, so, uh, knowing the geology of the islands is very important for timing, but also because each of the islands in galapagos, um, how's, how's it relatively different climate that road? Definitely different. Um, uh, ecology, wind swept islands in galapagos and there are rich I'm islands with rainforest, like stuff going on. So, so that is really important. And, and the isolation of the islands from the mainland and also amongst each other becomes a very important factor for, for what kinds of, of evolutionary events happen on those islands. Oftentimes on islands, you get these very rapid divergences and what happens is you end up lots of species. So as an example, go back to the warning islands. I'm on the planet. There are about 2000 species of fruit flies, soft lids, and a thousand of them live in Hawaii. So half the diversity of this kind of insect lives in Hawaii, which is about the size of Connecticut. So, so this is a really interesting kind of thing

Speaker 3: that's some of your former research was done with fruit flies. How is that possible? That half the population of the world of flute five from flies is in one place,

Speaker 4: cio aspect, right? And so what happens Is as flies moved from, you know, you have a population of flies on one island and they get blown. One on a gravid pregnant female gets burned to another island, she starts a population in, all of a sudden you have a new species. So, so, uh, that's happened over and over again in hawaiian islands. And, and, uh, ms dot produced a situation where thousands of a thousand species that have evolved from more than likely a single, a colonizer of the horn and islands. That's the other thing is you have to realize is that the wind islands are so far away from continental places that it was more than likely a single individual that got to the islands, she was pregnant and gave rise to flies, and all of those flies then diverged into the, into the thousand species that they have there now.

Speaker 3: Amazing fruit flies specifically. I'm very unique and very studied. How come

Speaker 4: a study, because they're easy to breed in the lab and a, they're easy to manipulate, easy to look at just the perfect lab rat lab. Rats reproduce every 30 days. These guys reproduce every 10 days. A lab, rats, you have to keep in cages. These guys, you've been keeping tubes, you know, so, so they have a special place in biology, um, due to their, uh, the ease with which you can rear them and the ease with which you can discover a variation.

Speaker 3: [inaudible]. so we've talked to, we've talked a little bit about your background then with a fruit flies and, uh, ultimately with, um, caveat. Let's go all the way back. Where are you from?

Speaker 4: I'm from Illinois. I'm from a small community outside of springfield, Illinois, where the simpsons are from springfield was asked actually a, a, a was the town that's really close to springfield. It's not gillespie. What is it? I don't know. Whatever

Speaker 3: kind of small town type of upbringing. What were your, what were your parents like?

Speaker 4: Yeah, they were difficult. Midwesterners a hardworking people. My mom raised six kids, you know, my dad provided for us and it was a hard working family and typical, you know, family of the sixties and seventies.

Speaker 3: WAs science kind of a part of the home or not necessarily? No, it was not. No.

Speaker 4: My mother, uh, graduated from high school as did my father, but both of them didn't go to college and I don't think either one of them was that interested in biology and my interest in biology didn't, didn't, uh, expand until I was actually out of college

Speaker 3: until you're out of college? Yeah. All right. So where did you go to school? Like the university of chicago and chicago. So you were always a smart guy. I don't know if you going to actually go into the university of chicago in the 19 seventies. It wasn't a very smart thing to rate the ratio of men to women was like nine to one at that point. Too many dudes, too many guys

Speaker 4: and, and well, you know, it was a rough area of the city at that point in time and it was great being in chicago at that point in time because there's a lot of political activism going on, whIch is, which is what distracted me, but, but, uh, you know, once, once a settled down a little bit and realized how, how cool biology was and how cool museums where I worked at the field museum for two years after graduate, after graduating.

Speaker 3: Well, but how did you get there? So in other words, how do we go from political activism, which I'd love to talk about, but let's stick with the science for a second. How did you find it?

Speaker 4: You know, just went over to the museum and started talking to people, the scientists and needed somebody to work on something. And so I started working, working on a rodeo sexually, just got interested that way and uh, once I realized what was involved in doing biology and doing experiments and doing the things that you do is just really thought it was really cool. So. Right, because that got me into it.

Speaker 3: What, what year would this have been roughly? A 78. Seventy eight? Seventy seven? Seventy eight. So you look younger than you must be. I guess I'm pretty alright. Yeah. Um, so 77, 78. You start to get into biology. Did you go back to school for it or not? Went to graduate school at wash u in st louis. Okay. And what did you study their study biology there. Right? But what, what anything specifically interest off. What's that? Fruit flies from warren. Oh, there you go. what are they called? Y intercept. Okay, fair enough. You kept on saying you kept on referencing that word and now I know what that means. And you also used a different word for pregnant or you were going to use rabbit insects or gravity. Okay. Snakes or grabbing a woman's pregnant. I say, well, what's the difference? The egg disrespect. No, you don't have to tell your wife or you look very grabbing view. Beautiful when you're grabbing. Absolutely. You're ugly. Glowing when you're grabbing, you're grabbing. It's just a. It's a biology turtle. Got it. Okay. So, so the fruit flies was all the way back. Then I say. okay. And then up through. Where did we go from st louis in a postdoc at berkeley. Okay, well we got to talk about that. A significant portion of our audience is from northern California. So, uh, tell us about the there

Speaker 4: with the guy who's considered the father of modern molecular revolution. You even have the wilson who's a very famous biologist who started a lot of the work that we do in evolutionary biology was a technical whiz and had a very, very fertile line. The guy was just fantastic to work with.

Speaker 3: When you say he started the wha wha, what, what does that mean? When he was,

Speaker 4: when he was starting up his lab, we didn't use molecular tools that frequently to understand evolution. And what he did was he dedicated his lab to using molecular tools to understand evolution and the relationships and things. And, and his, his lab was, was like mecca. It was like, that's where you went if you wanted to learn this technology. And I was fortunate enough to get a fellowship to go to go work with them for two years. And

Speaker 3: if you wasn't molecular before, what was it? Hunch. We always looking at the, at the tracy morgan,

Speaker 4: I'm seeing the color of her eyes color their wings, shaping their wings, the behavior, things like that. And the molecules are much easier to work with because they, they're, they're less prone to interpretation. Um, so you know, if you have a behavior, you don't know if that's an inherited and then dealing in fashion and if it's, if it's not, then it's not going to be a very good

Speaker 3: to. Or when you say men dealing, do you mean nature

Speaker 4: nurture more nature, more inherited longer chromosomes. And, and you know, so molecular tools become much more useful and much more precise. And a lot of the other tools, although some, there are a lot of morphological anatomical things that researchers use to do this kind of work. But alan wilson's lab is the pig lab in berkeley and it spawned a, his labs spawned 30 research scientists who are now doing this kind of stuff at, at very high level. So if not for him, we wouldn't be where we are basically I'd say. Yeah, I'd say that I'm taking him as an example. Um, you know, kind of diving in to where it begins. Really. Um, where did you take that thinking? Oh, if alan. Alan died in 90, in the early nineties. Because you would have been with them in the early eighties. Yeah, it was them in the early eighties in.

Speaker 4: And if he was still alive, this cannabis project would be one that he'd be all over. Why? Oh. Because it's a fascinating biological problem, uh, that, that wants to understand the relationships of things, um, and wants to be able to identify things at the molecular level. He'd be all over this. This would be one of his favorite things to do. So we left you in in berkeley and what might have been 1984, which featured a very good chicago cubs team. You might remember them now. They lost the san diego padres after being up two to nothing. So five game series. I remember that really well. And that's right. Which I'm broken heart, which broke your heart and, and still hurt until this year I guess. Right? Absolutely. You know, there's, there's, there was much, much joy in my family. I belong to a five generation of family so they know a much more than just rick sutcliffe and rian leondre writing center.

Speaker 4: Go back to events and go back to my grandfather came a, there you go. And greatest double play a combo of all time. So yeah, I'm very happy year for, for us with respect to the cubs. Where did you go after her wise? Pretty dismal year. Well we can get to that maybe, but we'll say uh, as far as you though, let's rejoin you. Where'd you go after berkeley? I want to. I was hired as an assistant professor at yale university for was there for five years and still with fruit flies or then I moved here with fruit flies to the american museum of natural history. Got very lucky and got a job in this museum to along with one of my colleagues. You saw him down in the hall 26 years ago. We were both hired to develop a molecular biology program here 26 years later, graham.

Speaker 3: So it's only been a quarter of a century. Right. Where did caviar come into it?

Speaker 4: Caviar came in when I first came to me is about 22 years. How, um, when you work in a museum, you meet a lot of strange people and a strangeness in a museum. It can also be really great. And so I was at a talk and this russian guy came up to me. I gave a talk and this russian guy came up to me and said, you really should work with me. And I'm like, you know, that's, that's something maybe I could do, maybe I could do. And he was very persistent and about half year later we had, we had, uh, started to work together and get discovered that you could make dna from a caviar egg, you can sequence that dna from the caviar eggs and you can tell what species it is and so simply by kind of networking that happens. And that's the same way with my window.

Speaker 3: That's why it's good to, to whether you're a businessman or a scientist. Okay. So, so 25 years here at the american museum of natural history because we're here. Let's just talk about the building a little bit. Um, you mentioned to me while we were walking through the halls, 75 percent of the floor space is not even open to the public. That's right. Fascinating. Yeah.

Speaker 4: The museum holds about 32 million specimens, which is unique. There are other museums with more specimens, but they usually store them off site. Every one of our specimens is stored on site. And what that means is that we need to have a lot of floor space for cabinets. You saw tons of cabinets downstairs and for cabinets and for, for lab areas, for the curators to work in m and a now, or we're actually expanding our computer processing capacity in her bioinformatics capacity. So we're trying to keep up with the modern world and at the same time maintain what we do really well here, which is a store things make them available for people to do research on, but also to understand how those things are related to each other and understand and stabilize how they're named

Speaker 3: it. IT does sound like a, this is an inflection point, you know, because we have these cabinets, you know, rows and rows and rows of cabinets of, you know, here's, here's the mollusks waned. Um, you know, and then you're marrying that with computing. How is that happening? That was happening through, through dna sequencing

Speaker 4: because there's so much information in the genome. You really do need to have computer skills. I've fooled everybody into thinking I have computer skills, but I actually have really good people working with me. And, and uh, you know, that that's where the need for computer skills. It's all about the big data nowadays and you know, the cannabis project with mildly as isn't big data project, it's a huge data project with over a thousand strains and thousands of base pairs of sequence from each of those strains. So talking about a lot of data, how do you take those data and convey those to, to the real world. Um, and in some cases you ended up with brilliant ways to do it like galaxy and in other cases you ended up having to work on it really hard to try to figure out how to undo it.

Speaker 3: so, so looking at the galaxy with your brain, understanding that you're not a cannabis guy, what do you say? I see this really cool system. I see the same thing.

Speaker 4: Wilson would see what this really cool system where you can get the strains, you can understand something about the biology of the strains, how much thc is in them, how fast they grow, how tall they grow, things like that. And a system where the genealogy is not well known and it's not well known. I am, from what I understand is not well known because of the breeding and secret that it's undergone over the last 5,100 years. Right. And this breeding and secret needs to be on, on, covered in an unwoven in order for us to understand how to, how to improve the product and how to make sure that you're getting the right product and how to think about the future of, of the crop. You know, I mean, this is, this is a plant that's going to be a crop. I mean, this is going to be a classic crop plant now and so it should have the same kind of genetics, the same kind of understanding that we have for corn that we have for soybeans that we have for any other plant crop that we use. Yeah,

Speaker 3: you're a busy guy, you've got other stuff to do. So I'll kind of wind down here. Can you give us a good Alan Wilson quote, you know, something, uh, something to take home type of thing. I remember one time, and this was really good, funny,

Speaker 4: remember we submitted a paper together and, and um, uh, you got the reviews back and they were escaping and you know, you're trying to say something pretty outrageous, uh, using molecular data and say something about the timing of an event.

Speaker 3: Do you want to take it? Just give us a little bit more so we understand it was the fruit

Speaker 4: flies in Hawaii and because we know that the islands of certain ages, because we have the geology of the arguments, we could say that this divergence happened really, really fast and it's thousand species happened in, you know, $20 million years, which is spectacular divergence for, for plants or animals. And he got three, we got three views back and you read them and he goes, I hate reviewers. They violAted my freedom of speech, right all the time. And I just thought that was the funniest thing because it's so anathema to, to how science is done. So because we do need the review process. But, but, uh, it was also a very big indicator about him. He had these ideas that were really, really cool. a lot of times he couldn't, he couldn't approach them, but he still thought they were cool and it turns out that a lot of the ideas he had were really cool. And now that we can do things at the genome level, we're finding that a lot of them are, are, are pretty, pretty spot on.

Speaker 3: Yeah. It almost sounds like he wasn't talking about freedom of speech. Who's talking about freedom of thought? Almost. Yeah. Right. Freedom of thought. Alright, three final questions. I'll tell you what they are. And then Alaska usually it's, um, what, what has most surprised you in cannabis? We're going to ask you, what is most surprised you in your work? What has most surprised you in life is the second question on the soundtrack of robert sells life named one track. One song that's got to be on there. We'll come back to that. What's most surprised you in your words?

Speaker 4: My work. Um, that it, that it has some relevance to the real world. And also. So I work a lot with medical doctors and I'm working with a company now that breeds grasshoppers and crickets, crickets and, and I'm, you know, I, I've worked on cancer, I've worked on viruses and, and the fact that the stuff I do has relevance to the real world, kind of surprises me because you're just a kid that was interested in politics back in the hide, hide in this perfect place to hide.

Speaker 3: There you go. What's most surprised you in life?

Speaker 4: Life. The fact that I can, uh, at the age of 62 that I can even think that I'm raising a two year old

Speaker 3: who are raising a two year old, which is amazing. That's pretty cool. You just took real quick. I don't know if you want to do this and we can cut it out later. but uh, kids from Tonga and he and he eats a fantastic amount of phase. He's a big kid,

Speaker 4: a half a pizza. He's two and a half calculus in one sitting. He's pretty amazing kid.

Speaker 3: Unbelievable. Six six eggs every morning. That's just crazy to me. I wish I could eat that much. That'd be great on the soundtrack of your life. One track, one song that's got to be on it. It's got to be in a cave caves. Oh, interesting. It's got to be a. It's probably breathless. Okay. And so go back and listen to some nick cave if you, if you don't know, you know what a professor sal was talking about. A, you got to check it out. Um, you know, just sit down and chill and enjoy. Is that about right? That's about right robert. Really appreciate your time. Thanks. Right. And there you have robert. Really appreciated all the time that rob gave us both in classroom and, uh, in the office. Very much appreciated the conversation a little bit different than what we usually do. hope you enjoyed this as well. Please do let me know. Engage@keneconomy.com. Thanks so much for listening. As always, appreciate your time.

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Cannabis Economy is a real-time history of legal cannabis. We chronicle how personal and industry histories have combined to provide our current reality.