Quirks & Quarks

A snake with a toxic surprise, the secrets of ambergris, and adapting coral to climate change

Web extras for Quirks on-line listeners

Web extras for Quirks on-line listeners

A keelback snake of the species Rhabdophis tigrinus. This juvenile snake is in a defensive posture, arching to present its neck which has sacs in which it has sequestered toxins taken from its prey. (Alan Savitsky)
Listen24:07

As our season winds down we have some bonus content for Quirks listeners.  

Biologist Ruairidh Macleod of Cambridge University in the UK discusses his research on ambergris, the mysterious waxy substance thought to be produced in the guts of sperm whales, that is used in high-end fragrances.  Macleod was able to extract sperm whale DNA from ambergris, and thinks it might be a valuable way to study the giant whales.

Patrick Buerger, a postdoctoral fellow in Synthetic Biology at the University of Melbourne has been working to develop heat tolerant algae to combat coral bleaching using a technique known as directed evolution. This may allow researcher to find strains of coral algae that are tolerant to the high water temperatures that are driving bleaching on reefs around the world.

Alan Savitzky, a herpetologist at Utah State University, has been studying keelback snakes, which are a unique group who sequester toxins from the toads they eat, which they use for defence. His group recently found some species of keelback who don't prey on frogs but have surprisingly found different prey to eat from which they can gather defensive chemicals.

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