They were perfectly lovely, the beets Surendra Pradhan and Helvi Heinonen-Tanski grew: round and hefty, a rich burgundy, their flavor sweet and faintly earthy like the dirt from which they came. Unless someone told you, you’d never know the beets were grown with human urine.
Pradhan and Heinonen-Tanski, environmental scientists at the University of Kuopio in Finland, grew the beets as an experiment in sustainable fertilization. They nourished them with a combination of urine and wood ash, which they found worked as well as traditional mineral fertilizer.
“It is totally possible to use human urine as a fertilizer instead of industrial fertilizer,” said Heinonen-Tanski, whose research group has also used urine to cultivate cucumbers, cabbage and tomatoes. Recycling urine as fertilizer could not only make agriculture and wastewater treatment more sustainable in industrialized countries, the researchers say, but also bolster food production and improve sanitation in developing countries.
Urine is chock full of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, which are the nutrients plants need to thrive—and the main ingredients in common mineral fertilizers. There is, of course, a steady supply of this man-made plant food: An adult on a typical Western diet urinates about 130 gallons a year, enough to fill three standard bathtubs. And despite the gross-out potential, urine is practically sterile when it leaves the body, Heinonen-Tanski pointed out.
Researchers from the Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia (they really like Darwin there, apparently) thought they had schemed up a clever way to study how Australian Green Tree Frogs regulate their body temperature.
They surgically implanted temperature-sensitive radio transmitters inside the frogs’ bellies, but months later when they went to retrieve the frogs, the scientists found the transmitters scattered on the ground. Like so many great scientific discoveries, the researchers eventually went from “huh?” to “aha!” according to Nature News:
Researchers have discovered that these amphibians can absorb foreign objects from their body cavities into their bladders and excrete them through urination.
For the frogs, this means that any thorns or spiny insects they swallow while hopping around trees are safely (but painfully?) removed from the body.
This is the first time this phenomenon has been observed in an animal’s bladder, but some fish and snake species can absorb objects into their intestines from their body cavity and remove them by defecation.
Talk about adaptations that would make Darwin proud.
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Image: flickr / VannaGocaraRupa
Sometimes the best way to get people fired up about a cause—be it environmental, political, or anything else—is to get them angry. But instead of trying to piss citizens off, a Brazilian environmental group is trying to get the country’s residents to, well, urinate in the shower.
The group says that if a single household flushed the toilet just one fewer times a day, it would save a whopping 1,157 gallons of water each year. The organization has even come out with a video touting the idea. Urine is sterile, so peeing in the shower is harmless (except if someone has a disease that can be transmitted through their pee, such as hepatitis).
The AP reports:
The spot features cartoon drawings of people from all walks of life – a trapeze artist, a basketball player, even an alien – urinating in the shower.
Narrated by children’s voices, the ad ends with: “Pee in the shower! Save the Atlantic rainforest!”
Watch it here:
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Image: flickr /stevendepolo
• Tires made with orange oil instead of petroleum are in the making! Perhaps they’ll exude a light citrus scent on the highway.
• A badger intoxicated from a binge on overripe (and therefore alcoholic) cherries disrupted traffic in Berlin when he parked himself in the middle of the road. Apparently the little guy got pretty belligerent, too: “Having failed to scare the animal away, officers eventually chased it from the road with a broom,” according to Reuters.
• The owners of a runaway dog are pretty pissed off. They’re following the canine’s example in the hopes of bringing the pup back: Spraying their own urine around their neighborhood. Let’s hope they don’t try using, er, option number two.
• The zoo-against-zoo fight in Germany over celebrity polar bear Knut is finally settled…to the tune of $600,000.
• Cell phones: They’re not just for talking anymore, and some of the pictures people take with them are surprisingly high-quality. Check out these awesome cell phone pics sent in by readers to the New York Times.
The Endeavor shuttle shot into space last week carrying loads of fancy equipment for the International Space Station. Among the new gadgets to be installed is a water recovery system that promises to recycle 93 percent of astronaut urine, sweat, exhaled water vapor, and other waste water back into drinkable water. The whole shebang cost about $250 million to develop, but that’s still cheaper than having to send periodic shuttles to the station to deliver fresh water.
Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is, what does it taste like?
New York Times reporter John Schwartz took it upon himself to find out. He went to the Kennedy Space center where NASA officials offered him a bottle of water made from a 2005 prototype of the system. (The scientists generously “donated” their own liquids for the test run.) The label on the bottle read, “We use only the finest ingredients! Urine, Perspiration, Food Vapors, Bath Water, Simulated Animal Waste, and a touch of Iodine. No Carbs or Calories Added.”
And Schwart’s verdict?
When life gives you 20 million pigs’ worth of urine, make pig-piss-flavored cigarettes. Or, if you’re not a smoker, use the pig pee to make plastic dinnerware and fuel your car, or smooth it over your body for soft, supple hair and skin. Agroplast, a Denmark-based company, hopes to use its country’s surfeit of pig waste—the cause of contaminated ground water, dying plants, noxious air, and pissed-off neighbors—to make useful household products, from plastics to hair conditioner.