Flashback Friday: A new biological weapon to fear: skunk spray.

By Seriously Science | September 19, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Dan Dzurisin

Photo: flickr/Dan Dzurisin

This case report reads a bit like a comedy version of CSI. The laboratory involved was asked to identify the source of the biological weapon deployed at a politician’s office, home, and car. The foul-smelling compounds caused several staff members to become nauseous and vomit. The scientists got to work, using gas chromatography/mass-spectrometry (GC/MS) to identify the stinky molecules. Turns out it was skunk spray. Ewww!

GC/MS based identification of skunk spray maliciously deployed as “biological weapon” to harm civilians.

“Our laboratory has been asked to elucidate the origin of a strong “toxic smell” present in a prominent politician’s office, private house and motorcar. This stinky and pungent atmosphere has caused serious nausea and vomiting to several individuals.  Read More

People are attracted to the body odor of others with similar political beliefs.

By Seriously Science | September 18, 2014 11:05 am
Photo: flickr/Richard foster

Photo: flickr/Richard foster

Previous studies have shown that Democrats and Republicans can be differentiated from their faces. Well, according to a new study, this also applies to their smells. Researchers from Brown, Harvard and Pennsylvania State Universities tested whether people could tell the difference between the odor of a staunch liberal and a conservative. Turns out the subjects were more attracted to the smells of people with similar political beliefs, some to a surprising extent:  “In one particularly illustrative case, a participant asked the experimenter if she could take one of the vials home with her because she thought it was “the best perfume I ever smelled”; the vial was from a male who shared an ideology similar to the evaluator. She was preceded with another respondent with an ideology opposite to the person who provided the exact same sample; this participant reported that the vial had “gone rancid” and suggested it needed to be replaced.” While the mechanism of this phenomenon remains unclear, one thing is certain: politicians stink.

Assortative Mating on Ideology Could Operate Through Olfactory Cues

“Mates appear to assort on political attitudes more than any other social, behavioral, or physical trait, besides religion. Yet the process by which ideologically similar mates end up together remains ambiguous. Mates do not appear to consciously select one another based on ideology, nor does similarity result from convergence. Recently, several lines of inquiry have converged on the finding that olfactory processes have an important role in both political ideology and mate selection. Read More

Do you look at your poo? If not, here’s why you should.

By Seriously Science | September 17, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Corrie Barklimore

Photo: flickr/Corrie Barklimore

As a scientist, I freely admit that I inspect my poop every day. And after reading this paper, I’m glad I do. That’s because one of the most obvious signs of colon cancer is a bloody stool, and you can only detect it if you’re looking at your doo-doo regularly. But do most people inspect their poops? Well, these gastroenterologists decided to find out. It turns out that I’m in the minority; only 27% of participants looked at every poop and wipe, and a whopping 6% never looked at either their turds or their used toilet paper. And the scary part? There was a clear association between the frequency of scatological viewings and whether they successfully reported bloody stools. So the next time you take a poop, remember to take a peep!

Factors associated with the frequency of stool examination: effect on incidence of reported rectal bleeding.

“BACKGROUND: Rectal bleeding is an important presenting symptom of colorectal cancer. The presentation and investigation of patients with rectal bleeding may be delayed if people do not regularly inspect their stool or toilet paper. Read More


Shared pain increases trust and cooperation.

By Seriously Science | September 16, 2014 6:00 am

Photo: flickr/dlee13

Photo: flickr/dlee13

Pain is a key element of many cultural practices of group initiation – from the paddling of fraternities to ritual tattoos and piercings. But the role pain itself plays in these traditions remains unclear; no scientific studies have tested whether pain actually has social effects. Until now, that is! Here, the researchers inflicted pain on participants via sticking their hands in ice water, having them perform leg squats, or making them eat hot chili peppers. They found a link between pain and bonding in small groups: subjects who underwent these painful experiences together felt more bonded with their fellow subjects and cooperated more in an economic game. Maybe this also explains why grad students feel so bonded by the end of grad school?

Pain as Social Glue: Shared Pain Increases Cooperation.

“Even though painful experiences are employed within social rituals across the world, little is known about the social effects of pain. We examined the possibility that painful experiences can promote cooperation within social groups. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings

How far would you go to stop wetting the bed?

By Seriously Science | September 15, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Nina J. G.

Photo: flickr/Nina J. G.

Although children are most often the poor souls stuck with the torment of bedwetting (a.k.a. “nocturnal enuresis”), adults also have to deal with it from time to time. Fortunately, there are a number of methods designed to help, of which the device described in this paper is a pretty extreme example. Basically, it involves a humidity sensor that, if activated, turns on a pair of electrodes attached to the perineum (commonly referred to as the “taint”). The resulting electric current unconsciously activates the pelvic floor muscles and closes the urethra. In this study, scientists test whether this contraption really works (and if it’s safe). The results? Well, let’s just say that if you really want to stop wetting the bed, urine luck!

New device and new concept for treating nocturnal enuresis: Preliminary results of a phase one study.

“OBJECTIVE: This new device for nocturnal enuresis (NE) consists of a humidity sensor, which beyond activating the sound also triggers an electrical stimulus, contracts the pelvic floor muscles and closes the urethra, thereby interrupting the void. The aim of this study is to test if the theoretical principle described above is true and if the device used is safe. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Crime & Punishment, ha ha poop

Flashback Friday: Swearing when you hurt yourself actually makes it feel better.

By Seriously Science | September 12, 2014 10:27 am
Photo: flickr/racchio

Photo: flickr/racchio

When you stub your toe, the first words out of your mouth are probably NSFW. But does that string of curses actually do anything for the pain? In this study, the researchers tested whether swearing actually makes people more tolerant of pain. Since swearing varies from person to person, they asked the participants for “five words you might use after hitting yourself on the thumb with a hammer” and chose the first word on each list. They found that saying this swear word made people more tolerant of sticking their hand in icy water, and even lowered their perception of the pain, compared to saying a neutral word. The authors hypothesize that swearing “induces a fight-or-flight response” – basically, making people less afraid of the pain and more willing to confront it. Hardcore!

Swearing as a response to pain. “Although a common pain response, whether swearing alters individuals’ experience of pain has not been investigated. This study investigated whether swearing affects cold-pressor pain tolerance (the ability to withstand immersing the hand in icy water), pain perception and heart rate. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: duh, feelings shmeelings, told you so

There’s actually a medical condition called “Clown Nose.”

By Seriously Science | September 11, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/42dreams

Photo: flickr/42dreams

On occasion, doctors can be pretty insensitive. We previously reported on an unfortunately named butt rash called — you guessed it — “Baboon syndrome.” And now this: a cancer of the nose that results in what doctors have compassionately termed “clown nose” (CN). Fortunately, the patient in the case study below turned out to be fine, but we wonder if he ever really recovered from being diagnosed with such a ridiculously named ailment.

Clown nose: a case of disfiguring nodular squamous cell carcinoma of the face.

“‘Clown nose’ (CN) is the common medical term referring to a reddish-brown bulge involving the tip of the nose, reminding of a clown’s fake red nose. Read More

Archerfish use precision water jets to shoot down their prey.

By Seriously Science | September 10, 2014 6:00 am

When it comes to freshwater hunting fish, archerfish might just be the biggest badasses of the bunch. These snipers squirt water droplets from their mouths in precisely aimed trajectories to shoot down insects and other prey from the air. Although it was well known that archerfish could aim their water jets, this study was the first to find that they can also control the hydrodynamics of the water flow itself by changing the shape of their mouth opening. Most impressively, the fish could control the point in the air where the water focused to maximize the impact on the target. Holy carp!

Archerfish Actively Control the Hydrodynamics of Their Jets.

“Among tool-using animals, none are known to adaptively change the hydrodynamic properties of a free jet of water—a task considered difficult in human technology. Hunting archerfish can strike their targets with precisely aimed water jets, but they are also presently thought to be unable to actively control the hydrodynamics of their jets. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals

Our anger faces are optimized to make us look stronger.

By Seriously Science | September 9, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Taston

Photo: flickr/Taston

Furrowed brow: check. Flared nostrils: check. Thinned lips: check. Have you ever noticed that we all look pretty much alike when we’re angry? Obviously, this is because we activate the same sets of facial muscles. But why do we use those muscles in particular? Here, researchers hypothesize that humans have evolved such that the faces we make when we’re angry also make us look stronger and more intimidating. To test this idea, they broke down the “anger face” into its constituent parts and manipulated facial expressions using one component at a time. They then had participants rate how strong they thought the person was. The result? The scientists were right: the same expression features that make up the “anger face” also make us look stronger. Which leaves us wondering whether Mr. T was actually strong–or just pissed off all the time.

The human anger face evolved to enhance cues of strength.

“Animals typically deploy their morphology during conflict to enhance competitors’ assessments of their fighting ability (e.g. bared fangs, piloerection, dewlap inflation). Recent research has shown that humans assess others’ fighting ability by monitoring cues of strength, and that the face itself contains such cues. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings

Zebra finches swing both ways.

By Seriously Science | September 8, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/patrick_k59

Photo: flickr/patrick_k59

Zebra finches are a monogamous species: they form life-long relationships and do not tend to stray from their mates. They are also known to form same-sex partnerships (like many birds, in fact), even in situations where males are present. In this study, the researchers observed pairing preferences in finches under different conditions. They found that in aviaries with equal sex ratios, about 6% of pairs were same-sex, primarily female-female. In a second experiment, they took same-sex pairs that had been formed in same-sex aviaries (i.e., all females or all males) and tested whether the pairs were maintained when the opposite sex was available. They found that while female pairs switched to partner with males,  some of the male pairs stayed together. From these results, the authors conclude that same-sex relationships are “more flexible” in female finches than in males.

Same-Sex Partner Preference in Zebra Finches: Pairing Flexibility and Choice.

“This study examined flexibility and choice in same-sex pair-bonding behavior in adult zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Zebra finches form life-long monogamous relationships and extra pair behavior is very low, making them an ideal species in which to study same-sex pairing. We examined same-sex behaviors using both semi-naturalistic choice paradigms and skewed sex ratios. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals

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Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.

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