Nature is Queer

GUESTS: Julia Monk, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of California-Berkeley and Dr. Robbee Wedow, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Data Science, Purdue University; Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medical and Molecular Genetics, Indiana University School of Medicine


Questioning persistent myths about same-sex behaviour in nature:

Can we predict who we love from our genetics alone? For LGBT History Month in October, Dr. Kaylee Byers is joined by co-host Dr. Julia Monk to examine what our genes teach us about diverse forms of sexuality and identity.

Starting by witnessing a pair of male penguins cozying up, our hosts join flippers to unearth research from naturalists who have recorded same-sex behavior in the wild. Then, they invite socio-geneticist Dr. Robbee Wedow to guide us through his own research, where he puts the question: “Is there a gay gene?” to the test.



A match made in pebbles


Buried papers, Darwinian Paradoxes, and reframing same-sex behaviour


Is there a Gay Gene? 'Damned if you do damned if you don't.'



Dr. Kaylee Byers: Before we hop into this episode, I just wanted to let you know that we’re slapping a PG-13 label on this one. There’s nothing super explicit going on here, but we will be talking about sexuality and romantic attraction. If you’re listening along with kids and you aren’t quite ready or frankly in the mood to have these conversations, maybe go check out some of our previous episodes and then come back to this one a little bit later. All right, let’s dive in. Hey, it’s yours truly, Dr. Kaylee Byers. Today, our producer, Sean, is taking us on a little adventure.

Producer Sean: I’m just stepping off the tram.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: He’s in the land Down Under.

Read Transcript

Producer Sean: Melbourne, Australia.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: On the beat of a story that has a couple twists and turns.

Producer Sean: And I’m on my way to the aquarium.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Or maybe more accurately, slides and dives.

Producer Sean: All right, I’m just walking to the front of the aquarium now.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: At Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium, there’s a particular tale he’s looking into. And yes, that’s a pun.

Producer Sean: Good. How are you doing, Liv?

Liv: Yes.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: He’s meeting up with Liv.

Producer Sean: Nice to meet you. Hi, Emily

Dr. Kaylee Byers: And Emily, to chat penguins.

Emily Thornton: Hi, I’m Emily Thornton. I am a penguin keeper here at Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium. I’ve been in the penguin department for about the last three or four years, but I’ve been at Melbourne Sea Life for 17 years now.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Sean’s there to learn about gentoo penguins and their most active time of year to, mating season.

Emily Thornton: Gentoo penguins have a really elaborate courtship. What they basically do is they will bow to each other, sing to each other, and eventually they get to a point where we give them nesting materials and we give them rocks and they start to collect rocks together. They will collect it into a little pile and that’s their nesting spot that they’ve chosen within the area. They usually guard that spot. One penguin will stay there and they’ll swap that sort of guarding job, I suppose you could call it.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: But during the last gentoo season of love, a particular pairing caught the zookeeper’s eyes.

Emily Thornton: One day, a couple of my old colleagues just noticed that two penguins in our colony, their names are Klaus and Jones, and Klaus and Jones are two males. They were starting to sing to each other. They were starting to bow to each other, and they were starting to show that courtship behavior that’s quite typical of gentoo penguins.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Two male penguins pairing up and building a nest together.

Emily Thornton: When we started putting nesting materials in, they gathered rocks together and put them together, which was really sweet.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: In truth, this pairing wasn’t all that surprising. Emily and the other zookeepers have labeled Jones and Klaus as a will they/won’t they couple for some time.

Emily Thornton: The reason that they’re a will they/won’t they is because they have a bit of a love-hate relationship outside of breeding season. They do often fight and pick at each other. At the moment actually, one of my colleagues did say to me today that she’s not sure if they’re going to break up or get back together for this season that’s coming up. They may very well end up still together again and still trying to breed.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Same-sex penguin pairing, super common. It’s seen both in captivity and in the wild. But even outside of this one species, same-sex behavior is everywhere.

Emily Thornton: Definitely with our king penguins. We’ve got two girls that bred last year that were flirting together last year and they’ve both laid eggs.

Producer Sean: Just kind of picking at his feathers right now.

Emily Thornton: Yeah, having a bit of a preen. It’s probably Klaus.

Producer Sean: What are some of the other species where you’ve observed this kind of behavior or heard of it?

Emily Thornton: A lot of invertebrates do.

Producer Sean: I think maybe even albatrosses?

Emily Thornton: Oh yes, yes, I knew about albatross. Definitely.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Nature is, well, queer.

Emily Thornton: Right there. Jones’ just here.

Producer Sean: Oh, that’s Jones. Hey, Jones. We’re talking about you, buddy.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: You’re listening to Nice Genes, where we stick our beaks into incredible science stories and genomics, brought to you by Genome British Columbia. I’m your host, Dr. Kaylee Byers and part-time penguin matchmaker. In this episode, we’re looking into an assumption that has prevailed in both society and science for hundreds of years. You’ve probably heard it yourself, same-sex attraction has been labeled as unnatural. But if we actually look to nature and observe other animals, what you find is that the opposite is true.

The question we’ll be asking this episode is, where do we see same-sex behavior in nature and where does it come from? Since we’re a genomics podcast, we’ll also be asking whether genomics plays a role, or is that question leading us down a rabbit hole we best stay out of? This is a complex issue and we’re going to dive in with the folks who are looking at this question from multiple angles. And hey, it also happens to be LGBT History Month when we launched this episode, so let’s get nerdy by going real deep into history, evolutionary history.

Dr. Julia Monk: I’m probably hunched over because I think the microphone’s a little…

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Expert number one and my co-host for this episode is Dr. Julia Monk.

Dr. Julia Monk: I’m an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, and I’m a postdoc at UC, Berkeley.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Julia, at the top of the episode, we got to hear about the story of Klaus and Jones, these two male gentoo penguins. I mean, how common is it for species to have same-sex pairings?

Dr. Julia Monk: It’s actually incredibly common across the animal kingdom. Some colleagues and I found that a couple of studies have suggested that there’s at least 1,500 recorded animal species that exhibit some type of same-sex behavior, and that’s pretty likely an underestimate.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: There’s like 1,500 species where this has been recorded, likely an underestimate. What are some species that form same-sex pairings or that have had that recorded?

Dr. Julia Monk: There’s a lot of different insects that engage in various types of same-sex pairings. Flower beetles are some of my favorites, but there’s also quite a few species of birds. Albatrosses are pretty well-known for very long-term stable same-sex pairings. You may have heard of that children’s book, Tango Makes Three. They were chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo I believe named Roy and Silo who started forming a bond.
They built a little nest together in their exhibit in the Central Park Zoo, and the keepers decided to give them an egg that had been abandoned by another pair of penguins to see if Roy and Silo would raise them on their own. And they did. They successfully hatched the egg and raised Tango, the baby penguin, successfully to adulthood. Many primates are the subjective study for their engagement in same-sex behavior. Cows, squids, pretty much any type of animal you can imagine.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: How do you have all this information? Did you go through and actually catalog all this for different species?

Dr. Julia Monk: I just dove really deeply into the literature, people who had done this type of study on same-sex behavior. In 1910, there was this expedition to Antarctica. It was called the Terra Nova Expedition, and there was this one zoologist and photographer named George Murray Levick. He was going to be the first researcher to study the Adélie penguin. And just like our gentoo penguins from the top of the episode, he saw it all, Adélie penguin pairings between the same- sex. He wrote it down in his notebook.

But because of the explicit nature of his notes and by the standards of the day, he only shared it with a select few and it was never published publicly. But we also have a couple of instances in natural history literature where people have noted other species from hundreds of years before in letters or in footnotes that this type of same-sex pairing was observed, but those data were thrown out because it was either not considered relevant or seen as a mistake or deemed too unseemly to publish.

This is a behavior that doesn’t lead to the production of offspring, so it should be selected out by natural selection. A lot of research had framed this behavior as what was termed a Darwinian paradox. My colleagues and I really challenged the framing of this paradox and some of the underlying assumptions behind the study of the evolution of same-sex behavior in animals.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Can you tell us a little bit about that? How did you counter that Darwinian paradox?

Dr. Julia Monk: This framing of a Darwinian paradox essentially asks how can same-sex behavior evolve and persist? What that’s really asking is why would animals engage in same-sex behavior or maybe it’s a mistake or there’s just some sort of evolutionary constraints that make it so that natural selection can’t weed out this clearly detrimental behavior? We really flipped that question on its head. Instead of asking why would animals engage in same-sex behavior, we asked, why not? Are there really costs to this behavior?

We challenged the underlying assumptions under some of this research and instead said, look, a lot of these studies are assuming that same-sex behavior did not exist in deep evolutionary time and it evolved in all of these independent animal species over time. Instead, we asked, well, isn’t it more likely that same-sex behavior was part of a more ancestral condition of early sexually reproducing species?

And that given that it may not have particularly high costs or it doesn’t necessarily take away from their ability to produce offspring, there’s little reason for natural selection to weed that behavior out, which would explain why it could persist in so many distantly related groups of animals to this day.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: What I love so much about how you’re framing this is, well, why wouldn’t this thing persist if it still conveyed some form of benefit or didn’t detract, right? Why would we just assume that it is necessarily bad, right?

Dr. Julia Monk: Exactly, and that’s really at the heart of what we were trying to illuminate. Really we proposed a hypothesis of ancestral indiscriminate mating. When different sexes first arose in deep evolutionary history of animals, there wouldn’t have been the ability to target very clearly because there wasn’t a lot of differentiation between sexes. Instead, it seemed likely to us that a lot of these early sexually reproducing animals are just looking for mates all over the place. And that’s a lot of what we see with some echinoderms.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Oh, echinoderm like starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars, sea cucumbers, those kinds of guys, right?

Dr. Julia Monk: Right, which are thought to be a little bit more similar to some of these early sexually reproducing animals, where there’s some form of just releasing your gametes out into the world and hoping they encounter one another. There’s not this clear targeting. Mating is kind of indiscriminate. And from there, we can get selection for different types of targeting, maybe some more different sex behavior, but that certainly doesn’t preclude lots and lots of same-sex behavior.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yes. Can I snap into my mic? I’ll just do that. All right, whether we see the commonalities between people and animals either as blurry or as a clear line in the sand, I think it’s time we bring in our next expert.

Dr. Julia Monk: It’s someone whose work can illuminate a question scientists have had for decades. Could you please introduce yourself to us?

Dr. Robbee Wedow: Sure. My name is Dr. Robbee Wedow. I am an assistant professor of sociology and data science at Purdue University and an assistant professor of medical and molecular genetics at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Dr. Julia Monk: Can you explain to us what sociogenomics is?

Dr. Robbee Wedow: I think there’s two pieces that are really important to understand. The first is really easy. It’s just the incorporation of genetic data into the study of disciplines like sociology or economics, traditionally social sciences. The second level is a little bit more nuanced. Sociogenomics, interestingly, is not about biology. Instead, we’re trying to use this new very well-powered, robust type of data to improve social science. We’re not really trying to learn about biology, but we’re using genetic data as a tool to learn more about the social environment.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Time to jump down a bit of a rabbit hole. There’s this one term that cropped up in 1993. A geneticist named Dean Hamer and his fellow researchers published what they believed was some of the first evidence of a link between genetics and same-sex behavior. Sitting on the X chromosome was what they believed was an explanation for gay male sexuality, marker Xq28. It was published in a notable science journal, but some subsequent research called their findings into question.

Dr. Julia Monk: But it was too late. The cat was out of the bag and the scientific community and presses went off the chain.

Old-Timey Announcer: One of the biggest debates of our time. Is being gay a choice, or is this in the gene? Can you believe that being gay may be in our DNA?

Dr. Julia Monk: And one particular term popped to the front of papers and news bulletins.

Old-Timey Announcer: Based on the fact that your child has the gay gene. There is no gay gene.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: The gay gene. And since then, well, that term stuck.

Dr. Julia Monk: When did you first encounter the term gay gene and what has it meant to you throughout your life?

Dr. Robbee Wedow: I was raised here in Northern Indiana in a very conservative family and a very religious family, and I started wondering about my sexual identity all the way back in middle school. It happened to coincide with a class. It was a genetics course and put me on a path at a very early age to start wondering about how genetics might shape sexual identity.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Genetic technology has come a long way since the ’90s, and early in Dr. Wedow’s academic career, he and his colleagues wanted to put the age-old question to bed. Is there a gay gene?

Dr. Robbee Wedow: It’s pretty cool that I actually got to answer that question that I started to form all the way back in middle and high school.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Step one, get the data.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: The two data sets that we used in this study are the UK Biobank and 23andMe.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: To do that, they had to apply for the data and let them know what they’d using it for.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: All of their outcomes and their genetics.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: The Biobank gave them about 500,000 individuals.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: And then with 23andMe, this is a topic that they were interested in collaborating on. Their consumers also are quite interested in these outcomes that get at who we are and why we are, what we are.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: The Biobank and 23andMe sends them the data. Dr. Wedow’s team looks at the data and then they do something called a GWAS.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: A GWAS is a genome-wide association study. You get a bunch of people’s genetic data together, and you essentially are scanning across all of the places in the genome that could potentially affect the outcome statistically. You have your chromosomes, and inside of your chromosomes you have your single nucleotide polymorphisms, which are the places in the genome where you might have an A or a T or a C or a G amino acid. You’re looking at when there is variation in one of those places, does it statistically affect the outcome?

Dr. Kaylee Byers: In this case, looking at everyone’s genetics in relation to same-sex behavior.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: What you get out of it is this figure called a Manhattan plot.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Sort of a big fancy graph that once the numbers are crunched looks kind of like the skyline of Manhattan.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: You can visually see which places in the genome are the most highly associated with an outcome of interest.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: The team kept crunching the data, continued on their study, but of course, they also had to keep in mind the ethics of the outcomes they were looking for and how they would navigate the sensitive topic.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: We were thinking about the ethics at the beginning, and then we were really thinking about the ethics as we began to present the paper at different conferences and we started to realize that this was going to be a generally high-interest topic that would want to come with a lot of cautions and precautions.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Dr. Wedow and the rest of the team flew to San Diego for the 2018 American Society of Human Genetics Annual Meeting, a big conference. Dr. Ben Neale, the head of the study, took to the stage and shared some of those preliminary studies. And well.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: At that time, I think we didn’t have all the data in, so we had just a GWAS and we had a few loci that seemed to be highly associated with the outcome. I think the gut initial reaction was just that the group felt like there’s a team at our work institute who is working on this paper that has something to do with my identity and I didn’t know anything about it. Critics of sociogenomics and particularly this study that think that this should be off-limits because it could potentially cause more harm than it could do good doing a study like this, especially if they might say we might not learn very much or there’s not much we can do with these results.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: You’re listening to Nice Genes, a podcast all about the fascinating world of genomics and the evolving science behind it, brought to you by Genome British Columbia. I’m Dr. Kaylee Byers, your host.

Dr. Julia Monk: And I’m your co-host, Dr. Julia Monk. We wanted to build this nest of genomic science nerds. If you like Nice Genes, hit follow on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your shows. Spread the love for science by sharing the show with a friend or penguin pal.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: When Dr. Wedow and his colleagues shared their early findings on evidence supporting genes that were associated with same-sex behavior, the room stiffened and a lot more questions were about to flood him and his colleagues from pretty much every angle.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: We tried to take every piece of feedback that we got under advisement, except for stop the study. I think it taught me how to do truly open science.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: The research team opened up the process, consulted with numerous groups to make sure that they were walking that tightrope of ethics, while also furthering the understanding of same-sex behavior. It also exposed them in a way that you typically wouldn’t expect in the realm of science.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: I had to talk about my own history and my sexual identity. I remember giving presentations where I really highlighted sometimes painful stories from my own experience to show how I was thinking about the paper and how it played a role. I think we really had all of our cards on the table, so it felt more like you were doing the science in front of an audience the entire time and listening to what they had to say and incorporating that into the science. But then I really grew to love it. The lessons learned from this generally are the way that I do my science now.

Dr. Julia Monk: Especially when it comes to the potential existence or non-existence of a gay gene, what were some of the fears around how your findings would be used? If it was true, would people screen for the gene to avoid birthing gay children, or if it was purely environmental, would that reinforce people’s belief in things like conversion therapy?

Dr. Robbee Wedow: Yeah, yeah. This was a double-edged sword we knew we were walking from the beginning, I think this was sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t here. If you found Mendelian gene locus, then people would start to think about CRISPR or embryo screening or things that really wouldn’t work, but people might think would work. And if we found very little role for genetics, then we might have the conversion therapy people start to harp on, well, this means that conversion therapy can work.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: You’ve shared with us the process. And then the big moment, what did your research find?

Dr. Robbee Wedow: We performed a systematic analysis across the human genome and we revealed a small handful of locations that were clearly highly associated with whether a person has ever engaged in same-sex sexual behavior. All of those variants together are common in the population and have very small effects. Together, when you add up all of those effects, I think they explain less than 1% of the overall variance in the outcome.

Clearly that underscores that there is no gay gene that determines or even has a strong effect on whether someone has same-sex sexual partners or has a diverse sexual identity. We also found that the genetic influences on same-sex sexual behavior are partly different between females and males, and that they also vary across societies, so location, and over time, measured by participant age. This to us suggests that there are societal and cultural norms that are shaping genetic effects on same-sex sexual behavior.

This is a nice socio-genomic finding that it’s culture and the environment that are shaping even the expression of genes or the associations of genes with this outcome. Genetics and environment both influence sexual behavior just as they do for any other complex behavioral trait. This trait looks just like other complex behavioral traits for humans. It will never be possible to meaningfully predict someone’s sexual behavior from their genes alone.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: What Dr. Wedow and the rest of the team found out put them at the intersection of science and society. They found both partial evidence of five particular genetic markers that were associated with same-sex behavior, but they also found that these associations are complex and that there’s likely much more to discover about the role of genetics and same-sex attraction. Even more importantly, they found that when environmental and social factors are considered, that the role of genetics was less clear-cut.

Dr. Julia Monk: Dr. Wedow spent a lot of time and energy on how to try and shape a thoughtful conversation around this kind of research. I wanted to ask him what’s an important framework for discussing research like his with sensitivity and care? Clearly you thought really carefully about how to approach studying a really sensitive topic like same-sex behavior, but you stated before that it’s sort of like any other complex behavioral trait and there’s a way in which separating out same-sex behavior can be a little bit myopic as well. How do you think about studying other types of sexuality or opposite-sex attraction, or what are some next steps in which we could consider sexual behavior or sexuality more holistically?

Dr. Robbee Wedow: Some of the results of the paper really indicate that sexuality and sexual behavior may be one of the very most diverse outcomes out there in the world. I don’t think there’s a quicker changing demographic variable than sexuality and sexual identity. Things are changing really quickly in terms of acceptance of diverse sexual identities and pushback from governing bodies at state and federal levels and how young people feel and how different that it is from how older people feel.

I think I’d want to see a very diverse set of places and ages and outcomes, and I think that would begin to build the baseline for a really good understanding of what this outcome is and how it changes and how complicated it is. And then you have to have a game plan for what happens when the data might be used nefariously. One example is that a company called GenePlaza shortly after the paper was used used the summary statistics from the paper to essentially create a little app called the How Gay Are You app.

What they were doing is they were having you upload your own genetic data and then putting you on a threshold compared to our data to tell you how gay you were. Now, this is something scientifically invalid for many different reasons. We wrote to them a very strongly worded letter that explained the problems with the science and why we were urging them to take it down immediately, and they took it down.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: How does that make you think about what we can say based on these genetic data? If it’s so clear that what we know about people’s behavior or attraction or outcomes is so influenced by the society in which they’re able to share that, how does that change a little bit about how you might think about doing this type of genetic research?

Dr. Robbee Wedow: That’s the question I want to answer, right? I want to understand better how social processes and laws and locations change expression of sexual behavior, and I want to use genetic data to do that because you can see the trends so clearly in this well-powered type of data. But I think it provides a really clearly highlight how society and the environment shapes diverse sexual expression.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: But do you not think that that can also just mean that we didn’t have quality data before about the association between the genes and the expression because people were not honest about their sexual behaviors?

Dr. Robbee Wedow: But that’s also an interesting social outcome, but that’s part of the sociology of the question as well. I’m proposing that we could have done this GWAS in 1910, but the newer GWAS in California in 2040, the outcome would actually be same-sex sexual behavior in a more open to diverse sexual identity state. The old outcome would be same-sex sexual behavior in a time when diverse sexuality was not as supported and people were more afraid to report how they engaged in same-sex sexual behavior.

Those would be the full names of the outcomes that we’d be studying. I think at some point we’re going to have so much genetic data that we’re going to be able to start adding things to the outcomes. We’re going to start to see the laws around privacy of genetic data change, which is I think scary to a lot of people, myself may be potentially included, but I don’t think it’s out of the question that we will be able to tie these deeply phenotypes or even interviews to genetic data.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Interesting. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Wedow. It was a delight chatting with you about this paper and all your work.

Dr. Robbee Wedow: Thank you. Yeah, it was great to be on the show. Thanks so much.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Julia, we just had this conversation with Dr. Wedow, I wanted to ask you, I mean, anything come up for you, any reflections you had following that conversation?

Dr. Julia Monk: Yeah. I mean, it was so interesting to hear about how they were really able to debunk this notion of there being a gay gene. There’s clearly so many more both genetic and environmental factors that are at play in determining the expression of same-sex behavior in humans, as well as in animals. But I think I continue to really struggle with how we reconcile these genetic factors with a lot of the societal baggage that we still have not completely grappled with.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: I think we have even in here, queer is natural, but you do not need nature to be queer to justify that in people because I feel like that’s something that we get stuck on as people a lot to be like, well, look though, but it’s an animal, so now it’s okay. It’s like, no, it is okay in all systems. You don’t need one to justify the other.

Dr. Julia Monk: Right, exactly. Yeah, that’s a tension that I’m always trying to think about deeply and lean into. Because on the one hand, I have colleagues who do biology education research, who’ve shown throughout their studies that highlighting this type of what could be termed ” queer behavior” in nature really increases senses of belonging of queer and trans students in the classroom. I don’t want to diminish the importance of seeing oneself in the natural world.

But at the same time, as you said, we don’t need the natural world to be presented in terms of queerness or we don’t need to convince people that there’s a biological basis to either queer or trans identities in order to have those identities be valid, worthy of respect, and protected from discrimination. It’s hard to know a lot about what attraction people experience, especially historically when it’s been so unsafe for people to express that for so long.

Just to give an example for my life, I came out to my mom the day that same-sex marriage was legalized because that social context played a huge role in how much I felt safe and comfortable being open about my own sexuality. I’m still really interested in thinking through how we can disentangle any genetic factors that influence people’s same-sex behavior or attraction, but also how much we feel safe expressing that and how much we can know about whether people or animals engage in that behavior if social context aren’t really open to looking into that.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Before we take off, we wanted to come back to our little love story that kicked us off.

Emily Thornton: From Sea Life Melbourne.

Dr. Julia Monk: Kaylee’s talking about Jones and Klaus, of course.

Emily Thornton: Talking to you about the penguins.

Dr. Julia Monk: When we recorded this episode, that colorful and musical mating season was just about to begin.

Emily Thornton: Um, a few couples have broken up.

Dr. Julia Monk: We followed up with Emily Thornton, their lovely keeper, to see if the will they/ won’t they relationship was off icy terms.

Emily Thornton: Very much Days of Our Lives.

Dr. Julia Monk: And nested into a lovely male gentoo romance once again.

Emily Thornton: We started putting in nesting material, which includes a platform and some nest rings and then some rocks. Maybe a month or two ago, they were fighting a lot and picking at each other. They were also wandering off with other penguins as well and doing the breeding behaviors like bowing to other penguins and things like that. But they have now decided that they actually are in love still, and so they’re bowing to each other. They’re giving each other rocks. They have got their own nest, and they are, again, one of our best collectors of rocks. They’ve been doing really well.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Aw, love finds a way. Our guest for today was Dr. Robbee Wedow, assistant professor of sociology and data science at Purdue University and research affiliate at the Broad Institute of MIT in Harvard. Special thanks to Emily Thornton of Sea Life Melbourne for letting us pop in and visit their handsome gentoo penguins. And of course, a big thanks to Jones and Klaus for letting us into their nest. And last but not least, my excellent co-host, Dr. Julia Monk. Thank you for joining me today.

Dr. Julia Monk: It was a blast. (Music)

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Do you mind finishing us off for today?

Dr. Julia Monk: Of course, not. You’ve been listening to Nice Genes, a podcast brought to you by Genome British Columbia. If you like this episode, go check out some of our previous ones wherever you listen from. Share us with your friends and leave us a review. You can also DM the show on Twitter by going to @GenomeBC, and we also have learn along sheets added to the show description. Join us next time where we confront the assumptions made around weight and our physical health.

Harriet Brown: Any doctor will just matter-of-factly recommend lose some weight. The science around weight and health is poor and highly tainted and not at all proving what we all assume to be true. And then I just fell down the rabbit hole a bit.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Thanks for listening. We’ll slide back into your feed soon with an episode to make you pen-grin.

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