The Japanese white-eye is one of the most
popular airplane models for snails.
The airplane is, arguably, one of the greatest inventions of humankind, shortening travel times and bringing disparate cultures together. But it turns out that we’re not the only ones to take advantage of flying vehicles. Researchers in Japan have now learned that a certain land snail, Tornatellides boeningi, can quickly travel great distances by hitching a ride in the guts of birds.
Microscopy often yields striking snapshots, but these colorful compositions have a less-than-glamorous subject: fruit fly intestines.
The insides of these humble critters may help researchers understand the human digestive system. Each of us has something like 500 million intestinal nerve cells, yet little is known about what they’re up to. According to a recent Wellcome Trust press release, fruit fly feces (seen in image 3 above) have helped researchers at the University of Cambridge understand how the gut’s nerve cells affect metabolism.
“We reasoned that what comes out of the gut may be able to tell us about what is going on inside,” says Irene Miguel-Aliaga, who headed the study. “So, we devised a method to extract information about several metabolic features from the flies’ fecal deposits–which are actually rather pretty and don’t smell bad. Then we turned specific neurons on and off and examined what came out.”
Examining fruit fly poo allowed the scientists to assign different functions to different intestinal neurons. Some regulate appetite, for example, while others adjust intestinal water balance during reproduction.
Toddlers can learn, cats can be taught–so why not take the next step and potty-train our livestock? Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration is encouraging its pig farmers to do just that with the countries’ six million pigs. The move will clean up the farms and help prevent water pollution, they say.
To keep the pig waste from flowing into the rivers (and to save water on cleaning up farms), the pigs are trained to relieve themselves in a trough. The “toilets” are smeared with feces and urine to attract the pigs–kinda like that spot on the carpet where the dog keeps relieving itself. All it took to start the porcine potty-training revolution was one genius farmer in 2009 trying to avoid the Taiwanese government’s “water pollution fee.” He noticed the difference immediately, he told the Mail and Guardian Online:
“The pig toilets on my farm help me collect about 95% of all pig waste, making cleaning much, much easier,” Chang Chung-tou, a pig farmer in Yunlin county, said.
After a trial of 10,000 pigs by Chung-tou and others in 2009, the Taiwanese EPA recently released a report detailing their findings, and recommending all pig farmers jump on the potty-training bandwagon. TreeHugger sums up their findings:
The Taiwanese EPA in their most recent announcement suggest that aside from [reducing] the amount of waste water by up to 80% pig farms were also cleaner and less smelly, and additionally the trotter toilets helped reduce illness among the pigs and boosted their fertility by 20%.
Agricultural waste is a major environmental concern–the most notorious pig farm accident occurred in North Carolina in 1995, when the dike around a lagoon of pig waste collapsed, spilling 25 million gallons of waste across the landscape. And while we applaud the potty-training initiative, we wonder if it could be taken further: If the farmers were really green they could use this poop to power their farming operations, their cars, or even satellites!
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Image: Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar
That’s the mission adopted by a team at the Florida Institute of Technology–they hope to bring the flexibility and sustainability of poop power to space. As a first step towards that goal, they’re testing the ability of a special hydrogen-creating bacteria, called Shewanella MR-1, to live aboard a UN satellite, says Fast Company:
The goal is, to put it bluntly, to see if Shewanella can convert astronaut feces into hydrogen for use in onboard fuel cells. “The bacteria generates hydrogen. If we give waste to bacteria, it converts to hydrogen that could be used in a fuel cell. We’re looking at how reliable the bacteria are,” explains Donald Platt, the Program Director for the Space Sciences and Space Systems Program at the Florida Institute of Technology.
The bacteria will be going up on the UN’s first satellite, a $5 million project by the UN’s Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that will stay in space for five years. The satellite is scheduled for launch in the first half of 2011. If the bacteria are able to successfully grow in space, this project might lead the way to recycling the astronaut waste of the future, instead of freeze drying the excrement and turning it into a shooting star.
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Last week, we discussed a poop-powered rocket. Now a new car promises we’ll see human waste’s potential closer to home–or further from home, but not as far as space. The Bio-Bug, a modified Volkswagen Beetle, can run on fuel made from raw sewage.
An hour southwest of Berlin, in the town of Treuenbrietzen, Mozart has played non-stop for two months. The classical composer’s audience? Waste-eating microbes.
As Spiegel Online reports, the German waste-facility’s owners believe the music, coupled with more oxygen, will make their microbes eat biosolids more efficiently, saving money and leaving less residual waste. Their idea comes from the German firm Mundus, headquartered in Wiesenburg, whose founder cites Mozart’s “very good effect on people.”
It’s fairly easy to poo-poo this experiment, especially given other wildly-marketed but later refuted claims attributed to the man’s music. Many of these Mozart miracles first surfaced after Frances Rauscher at the University of California, Irvine questioned in a 1993 paper (pdf) in Nature if listening to classical music could increase adolescent performance on IQ tests. Though Rauscher found that the music did seem to increase performance, later studies showed no effect.
Though the waste-facility spent hundreds on fancy stereo equipment, management hopes the scheme will save them thousands in expenses each year. One only hopes that the music will make their human employees a bit happier at a job that might otherwise stink.
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Image: flickr / gruntzooki
The fight against global warming has a brand new weapon: whale poop.
Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division have found that whale poop contains huge amounts of iron and when it is released into the waters, the iron-rich feces become food for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton absorbs carbon dioxide from the air, the algae is in turn eaten by Antarctic krill, and baleen whales eat the krill. Through this neat cycle, globe-warming CO2 is kept sequestered in the ocean.
Scientists have long known that iron is necessary to sustain phytoplankton growth in the oceans, which is why one geoengineering scheme calls for adding soluble iron to ocean waters to encourage the growth of carbon-trapping algae blooms. While environmentalists have fretted over the possible consequences of meddling with ocean chemistry that way, this new study on whale poop suggests an all-natural way to get the same carbon-trapping effect: Increase the number of whales in the ocean.
The giant montane pitcher plant is a botanical predator, ruthlessly luring in prey and feasting on its victims–except when it’s not. Researchers have discovered that the carnivorous plant is mighty adaptable; when there’s no prey around, it thrives just fine on the poop of a tree shrew that lives in Borneo’s mountains.
The pitcher plant is the world’s largest meat-eating plant; in low altitudes it feeds on ants, small insects, and possibly even small rodents. The plant entices its prey with tasty nectar, and when the animals lose balance and drop into the fluid-filled pitcher, they’re drowned and ingested.
But in Borneo’s higher altitudes, there aren’t enough gullible and clumsy insects to keep the plant alive. So, evolutionary forces pressured the plant to tweak its design a bit to entice the tree shrew to pay it a visit and poop into it.
The BBC describes the unique toilet-shaped plant:
After [a female] lays her eggs, she seals each one in a bell-shaped case. When the larva hatches, it performs some renovations, cutting a hole in the roof and enlarge the structure with their own poo. By sticking its head and legs out, it converts its excremental maisonette into a mobile home, one that it carries around with them until adulthood.
This beetle behavior has been well established by scientists. However, the leaf beetle Neochlamisus platanithey has been singled out by researchers for its “elaborate example of faecal architecture.” The larvae add a little insulation in the form of plant hairs, called trichomes, which help ward off predators, according to new research.
Staged attacks on larvae with and without fecal shelters demonstrated that poop-protected larva were less likely to be attacked by crickets, spined soldier bugs, and green lynx spiders than unprotected larva. NERS explains why:
Even if a predator investigates the case, they must first breach the unappetising shield, and the larva doesn’t make it easy for them. [The researchers] saw that, in some cases, the larvae pulled their cases down flush with the floor, making them even harder to penetrate. That defence was particularly effective against the bugs, whose stabbing mouthparts couldn’t break through the wall of the case. Some of the larvae also wiggled their cases back and forth, which could serve to shake off or startle a predator.
Even if a predator breaks through the case (as frequent holes in the structures suggest), they’d meet a large concentration of trichomes in the attic before they reached the larva underneath.
For beetles at least, putting up with their mothers’ crap can save their lives.
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Image: Wikimedia Commons / Neochlamisus
The folks behind the best-selling book, “What’s Your Poo Telling You?” aren’t satisfied with being mere bathroom reading material. So they’ve dropped a new iPhone app, the Poo Log, which allows you to time, log, and graph your BMs—and learn about your gastrointestinal health while doing so.
Via The Presurfer:
The ‘Poo Log’ is a digital timer and journal for recording and studying the wondrous uniqueness of each bowel movement. With a clever mix of bathroom humor and legitimate medical information, the ‘Poo Log’ allows the user to track his/her digestive workings and graph their ‘poo’ – all with one hand.
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Image: AvatarLabs Inc