Eggs from ancient poopy “toilet paper” prove parasites also traveled the Silk Road.

By Seriously Science | July 25, 2016 6:00 am
Figure 4. One of the personal hygiene sticks found in the latrine at the Xuanquanzhi site. The stick is wrapped with cloth at one end and there are traces of brown material, human faeces.

Figure 4. One of the personal hygiene sticks found in the latrine at the Xuanquanzhi site. The stick is wrapped with cloth at one end and there are traces of brown material, human faeces.

It has long been suspected that ancient trade routes facilitated the exchange of parasites as well as more savory goods, particularly along the famous “Silk Road” that connected Europe to East Asia. Here, scientists set out to test this idea by probing “personal hygiene sticks” (cloth-wrapped bum-scrapers) for parasite eggs. The sticks were unearthed at a relay station along the Silk Road in northwestern China and date from ~100 BC. And boy were they loaded with useful “data”: the scientists found eggs of Chinese liver flukes, tapeworms, roundworms, and whipworm. Well, crap!

Early evidence for travel with infectious diseases along the Silk Road: Intestinal parasites from 2000 year-old personal hygiene sticks in a latrine at Xuanquanzhi Relay Station in China.

“The Silk Road has often been blamed for the spread of infectious diseases in the past between East Asia, the Middle East and Europe. While such a hypothesis seems plausible, there is actually very little concrete evidence to prove that diseases were transmitted by early travellers moving along its various branches. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: ha ha poop, old-skool, Scat-egory

Flashback Friday: Even toddlers experience schadenfreude.

By Seriously Science | July 22, 2016 6:00 am
In the EQUAL condition the mother reads a book aloud to herself while the kids are playing (Figure 1a) the mother is then signaled to take the glass of water and accidentally spill water over the book (Figure 1b). In the UNEQUAL condition the mother placed the peer on her lap and embraced the child while reading a story aloud to that child (Figure 1c) and then she was signaled to accidentally spill water on the book (Figure 1d). At both conditions the child were allowed to play freely.

In the EQUAL condition the mother reads a book aloud to herself while the kids are playing (Figure 1a) the mother is then signaled to take the glass of water and accidentally spill water over the book (Figure 1b). In the UNEQUAL condition the mother placed the peer on her lap and embraced the child while reading a story aloud to that child (Figure 1c) and then she was signaled to accidentally spill water on the book (Figure 1d). At both conditions the child were allowed to play freely.

You are probably familiar with the concept of “schadenfreude,” a German word that means “taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others.” You’ve probably even felt schadenfreude yourself at some point, especially when the person undergoing the misfortune is a target of your envy or hatred. But at what age does this complex emotion develop? In this study, the researchers set out to determine whether very young children also experience schadenfreude. To do so, they created an experimental situation in which a child’s mother was either a) reading a book alone, while the child played with a playmate in the same room, or b) reading a book to the child’s playmate (see Figure at left). In both cases, the mother accidentally spills water onto the book, rendering it unreadable. The scientists then watched the children’s expressions and rated their emotions. As you might guess, the child whose mother was reading the book took more pleasure in the water spilling when the book was being read to his playmate, presumably because he was jealous of the demand on his mother’s attention. The response was seen in children as young as two years old, suggesting that schadenfreude in response to “termination of an unequal situation” develops early in life. 

There Is No Joy like Malicious Joy: Schadenfreude in Young Children

“Human emotions are strongly shaped by the tendency to compare the relative state of oneself to others. Although social comparison based emotions such as jealousy and schadenfreude (pleasure in the other misfortune) are important social emotions, little is known about their developmental origins. To examine if schadenfreude develops as a response to inequity aversion, we assessed the reactions of children to the termination of unequal and equal triadic situations. Read More

The funniest stand-up comedians are more likely to die young.

By Seriously Science | July 21, 2016 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/JoonHo Son

Photo: flickr/JoonHo Son

From Lenny Bruce to Robin Williams, many great comedians have suffered untimely deaths. But is this actually a hazard of the job? In this study, the authors investigated whether stand-up comedians were more likely to die young compared to comedic or dramatic actors, as well as whether funnier stand-up comedians were more prone to death than less funny comics. The answer to both questions was, unfortunately, yes. Talk about killing it onstage! (Clearly I’ll be living for a long time.)

Is the last “man” standing in comedy the least funny? A retrospective cohort study of elite stand-up comedians versus other entertainers


This study aimed to confirm, in a large, diverse cohort of elite Stand-up Comedians and other entertainers, that there is an inverse association between comedic ability and longevity.


This retrospective cohort study included 200 Stand-up Comedians (13% women), 113 Comedy Actors (17.5% women), and 184 Dramatic Actors (29.3% women) listed in the top 200 in each category in a popular online ranking website. Longevity within each group was examined adjusting for life expectancy by year of birth and within-group ranking score.
Read More

To avoid sexual cannibalism, praying mantis males choose well-fed females.

By Seriously Science | July 18, 2016 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Tom Hanny

Image: Flickr/Tom Hanny

Somehow, sexual cannibalism never seems to get old. Maybe it’s the visceral image of animals eating their partners after doing the deed. Or maybe hearing about kinky sex in wild animals helps us accept our own sexual oddities. Whatever the cause of our obsession, this study adds another layer of drama to the mix. Here, scientists gave male praying mantises a choice of whom to interact with: a likely well-fed female (prey in hand), a potentially hungry female (empty-handed), or a male holding food. And, as the title suggests, the males chose the females holding food, but first waited for them to finish their snacks. A wise choice, given that females have been known to sever male heads during copulation. Gulp!

Males choose to keep their heads: Preference for lower risk females in a praying mantid.

“Male reproductive success is obviously mate limited, which implies that males should rarely be choosy. One extreme case of a reproductive (or mating) cost is sexual cannibalism. Recent research has proposed that male mantids (Parastagmatoptera tessellata) are choosy and not complicit in cannibalism and that they modify behavior towards females based on the risk imposed by them. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: eat me, fun with animals, Sex & Mating

Flashback Friday: Scientists use MRI to measure precisely how your butt deforms when you sit down.

By Seriously Science | July 15, 2016 6:00 am
Photo: Flickr/StarAlex1

Photo: Flickr/StarAlex1

In our beauty-obsessed culture, people spend a lot of time thinking about the shape of their butts. Although humans have developed mirror technology to help us check them out while standing, we have had very little understanding of the shape of our butts when we sit. Until now, that is! This study used MRI to track how one lucky lady’s butt changed shape while sitting either in a chair with a butt-shaped hole, or on a regular cushion. Spoiler alert: sitting made her butt flatter… at least temporarily!

3-dimensional buttocks response to sitting: a case report.

“AIM OF THE STUDY: The aim of this study was to describe an individual’s 3-dimensional buttocks response to sitting. Within that exploration, we specifically considered tissue (i.e., fat and muscle) deformations, including tissue displacements that have not been identified by research published to date. Read More


How far would you go for science? Would you shove jellyfish tentacles under your arms? These volunteers did.

By Seriously Science | July 14, 2016 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Jim G

Image: Flickr/Jim G

Behind every new medical advance, there often lies an army of volunteers who stepped up and offered their bodies to science. And some of these volunteer experiences are more glamorous than others. Like this one: testing a cream that prevents jellyfish stings.

“Their underarms were exposed to wet jellyfish tentacles in a watchglass. The following were recorded: time before pain, skin changes after four minutes, and pain intensity after 10 minutes.”

At least the jellyfish cream seems to have worked.😱

Prophylactic treatment of jellyfish stings–a randomised trial.

“BACKGROUND: Contact with jellyfish can cause skin irritation and manifestations. We wanted to investigate the prophylactic effect of a sun cream containing an inhibitor against jellyfish stings.

MATERIAL AND METHOD: We recruited 38 persons who were randomised such that each received two of three possible treatments, one on each underarm. Prophylactic treatment with sun cream containing jellyfish sting inhibitor, ordinary sun cream, and no cream. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals

Lose weight, improve your vision, and more with… the placebo effect!

By Seriously Science | July 12, 2016 10:09 am
Photo: flickr/Fabian

Photo: flickr/Fabian

You probably associate the placebo effect with sugar pills. But according to these studies, the placebo effect is way more powerful than that: in fact, it can affect everything from weight loss to visual acuity. In the first study, hotel housekeepers who were told that their work was good exercise actually lost weight compared to a control group, even though their behavior did not change. In the second study, participants’ visual acuity improved when they simply acted as pilots (who they were told have good vision) in a flight simulator. And in the third study, diabetics’ blood sugar was more affected by how much time they *thought* had passed since their last meal, as opposed to how much time had actually passed. Talk about mind over matter!

Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect

“In a study testing whether the relationship between exercise and health is moderated by one’s mindset, 84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise. Those in the informed condition were told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General’s recommendations for an active lifestyle. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: diy medicine, super powers, WTF?

Flashback Friday: Can getting a heart transplant change your personality?

By Seriously Science | July 8, 2016 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/charlottedownie

Photo: flickr/charlottedownie

You might think that in this day and age, we would be past seeing the heart–an organ that pumps blood–as a center of a person’s personality. However, the authors of this study regularly dealt with real patients who worried that their personalities would change after a heart transplant. In fact, they report that some patients refuse hearts from the opposite sex, and others experience anxiety about their sense of self after having a heart transplant.  To get a better handle on this phenomenon, the researchers surveyed heart transplant recipients to find out whether they thought their personalities changed after the surgery. The short answer? No. (Except for three people, who reported a distinct change in personality that they did not attribute to the life-changing experience of getting a new heart.) But our favorite response is from this patient: “’I love to put on earphones and play loud music, something I never did before. A different car, a good stereo-those are my dreams now. And I have thoughts now that I never had before.’ (remark: patient: 45 year old man, donor 17 year old boy).”

Does changing the heart mean changing personality? A retrospective inquiry on 47 heart transplant patients.

“Heart transplantation is not simply a question of replacing an organ that no longer functions. The heart is often seen as source of love, emotions, and focus of personality traits. To gain insight into the problem of whether transplant patients themselves feel a change in personality after having received a donor heart, 47 patients who were transplanted over a period of 2 years in Vienna, Austria, were asked for an interview. Read More

Case report: woman gives herself a C-section and saves her baby.

By Seriously Science | July 7, 2016 6:00 am
Patient breastfeeding baby while recovering in hospital.

Patient breastfeeding baby while recovering in hospital.

If you had to give yourself a C-section to save your unborn baby, could you do it? Having given birth to my own child, I’m not sure I could. But this woman did it. She had no other choice: she lost a previous baby during protracted labor, and she lived in a small village eight hours drive from the nearest hospital. In the abstract and detailed case report below, doctors tell her (harrowing) story. And they tell it for a good reason: “This case, which would not have occurred if prenatal and delivery care had been available, should make health providers aware that the basic reproductive needs of women are not met.” Truth.

Self-inflicted cesarean section with maternal and fetal survival.

“An unusual case of self-inflicted cesarean section with maternal and child survival is presented. No similar event was found in an Internet literature search. Because of a lack of medical assistance and a history of fetal death in utero, a 40-year-old multiparous woman unable to deliver herself alone vaginally sliced her abdomen and uterus and delivered her child. Read More

Did Mozart have Tourette syndrome or was he just a fan of potty humor?

By Seriously Science | July 5, 2016 6:00 am

Wolfgang-amadeus-mozart_1When you think of Mozart, you probably imagine an 18th century gentleman who was always thinking about music. Well, it turns out that when not composing musical masterpieces, Mozart liked to talk about “shooting off his rear-end gun”.  He was such a huge fan of potty humor that some historians, after reading a series of letters that Mozart wrote to his female cousin (the Bäsle letters), have proposed that he suffered from Tourette syndrome. Here, the author refutes that interpretation, instead arguing that Mozart’s “frequent mention of erotic topics and, in particular, intensive use of scatological terms” were not uncommon for his time. Be sure to read the hilarious excerpt from the Bäsle letters below, and think of it the next time you hear “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”

Do features of Mozart’s letter-writing style indicate the presence of a neuropsychiatric disorder? Controversies about the Bäsle letters

“In recent decades, several scientific publications have come to the conclusion that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart might have had a Tourette syndrome. Other papers, however, have questioned this hypothetical diagnosis. The evidence for this diagnosis was mostly based on the so-called Bäsle letters, letters that Mozart wrote to his cousin when aged around 20 years. The letters have common stylistic characteristics such as frequent mention of erotic topics and, in particular, intensive use of scatological terms. Read More


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!
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