All mammals take ~12 seconds to poop.

By Seriously Science | April 26, 2017 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Paul Stevenson

Image: Flickr/Paul Stevenson

If the above image disturbs you, move along; this post is not for you! In this study, published this week in the journal Soft Matter (yes, seriously), scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology report their detailed studies of the pooping habits of a wide variety of mammals. Using video recordings of the fecal extrusions and measuring the resulting turds, they deduce that “Despite the length of rectum ranging from 4 to 40 cm, mammals from cats to elephants defecate within a nearly constant duration of 12 ± 7 seconds (N=23). We rationalize this surprising trend by the model, which shows that feces slide along the large intestine by a layer of mucus, similar to a sled sliding through a chute. Larger animals have not only more feces but also thicker mucus layers, which facilitate their ejection.” If you are interested in pooping, be sure to check out the Supplementary Movies — we had no idea that Panda poop is green!

Hydrodynamics of defecation.

“Animals discharge feces within a range of sizes and shapes. Such variation has long been used to track animals as well as to diagnose illnesses in both humans and animals. However, the physics by which feces are discharged remain poorly understood. In this combined experimental and theoretical study, we investigate the defecation of mammals from cats to elephants using the dimensions of large intestines and feces, videography at Zoo Atlanta, cone-on-plate rheological measurements of feces and mucus, and a mathematical model of defecation. Read More

Flashback Friday: Want to learn Chinese? Read this first!

By Seriously Science | April 21, 2017 6:00 am

3952984450_953c33c096_zIf you have ever struggled to learn a tonal language like Cantonese, you are probably (painfully) aware of how difficult it can be. In tonal languages, the same syllables can have different meanings if spoken with an increasing, neutral, or decreasing pitch. But xenoglossophobes, fear not — these researchers are here to help! They guessed that learning words in Cantonese would be easier and faster if students were first taught to distinguish different tones. To test this idea, they compared students (both musicians and non-musicians) who were first trained to hear tonal differences. Guess what? It worked! Both musicians and non-musicians learned new words faster when first taught to distinguish the different tones. Now all we need is something to make learning all those Chinese characters easy…

Effects of tone training on Cantonese tone-word learning.

“The present study examined the effect of improving lexical tone identification abilities on Cantonese tone-word learning. Native English non-musicians received training on Cantonese tones before learning the meanings of words distinguished by these tones. Read More


Flashback Friday: Want to feel happier? Just smell a happy person’s BO!

By Seriously Science | April 14, 2017 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/littlelovemonster

Photo: flickr/littlelovemonster

Smelling someone’s stinky body odor can really bum you out, at least temporarily. But did you know that BO can communicate emotions directly? According to this study, human body odor may contain chemicals, also known as “chemosignals”, that can carry information about emotional states. To test this hypothesis, the researchers evoked emotions in 12 men by showing them movie clips to make them either happy (e.g., “Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book), afraid (e.g., clips from Schindler’s List and Scream 2), or neutral (e.g., American weather forecasts). During each condition, the researchers collected sweat from the shaved armpits of the subjects. Later, they asked female subjects to smell the sweat samples, and they measured electrical impulses produced by facial muscles to track the women’s facial expressions. Turns out that women smelling the “happy sweat” had happier expressions (including smiles) compared with those smelling neutral or fearful sweat (the latter of which elicited a fearful expression). So there you have it — to get a boost of happiness, just find the happiest person in the room and take a whiff!

A Sniff of Happiness

“It is well known that feelings of happiness transfer between individuals through mimicry induced by vision and hearing. The evidence is inconclusive, however, as to whether happiness can be communicated through the sense of smell via chemosignals. Read More


Yes, cats really do have facial expressions.

By Seriously Science | April 12, 2017 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/liz west

Photo: flickr/liz west

If you’re a cat owner, then you probably have a pretty good sense of whether your cat is happy, angry, or frustrated. But do cats, like humans, actually have common “facial expressions” that accompany these emotions? People have actually been studying questions like this for decades (and even back to Charles Darwin), but not always in a scientifically rigorous manner. Enter these scientists, who set out to create a “facial coding system” for cats, which they term “CatFACS” (fortunately not related to putting cats into a flow cytometer). This type of framework can help link up behaviors and emotions in cats, as well as other related animals. Be sure to check out the figure below for a handy guide to cat expressions!

Facial correlates of emotional behaviour in the domestic cat (Felis catus).

“Leyhausen’s (1979) work on cat behaviour and facial expressions associated with offensive and defensive behaviour is widely embraced as the standard for interpretation of agonistic behaviour in this species. However, it is a largely anecdotal description that can be easily misunderstood. Recently a facial action coding system has been developed for cats (CatFACS), similar to that used for objectively coding human facial expressions. This study reports on the use of this system to describe the relationship between behaviour and facial expressions of cats in confinement contexts without and with human interaction, in order to generate hypotheses about the relationship between these expressions and underlying emotional state. Video recordings taken of 29 cats resident in a Canadian animal shelter were analysed using 1-0 sampling of 275 4-s video clips. Observations under the two conditions were analysed descriptively using hierarchical cluster analysis for binomial data and indicated that in both situations, about half of the data clustered into three groups. An argument is presented that these largely reflect states based on varying degrees of relaxed engagement, fear and frustration. Read More

Flashback Friday: What to eat to avoid garlic breath.

By Seriously Science | April 7, 2017 6:00 am

Photo: flickr/Sebastian Mary

Photo: flickr/Sebastian Mary

Garlic! So delicious, yet so stinky. If only there were foods you could eat after garlic to quench the stench. Well, according to this study, there are. These scientists first developed an automated method for detecting garlic odors, and then used this to “smell” the breath of participants after eating garlic followed by a variety of foods. The result? Turns out that eating parsley, spinach, mint, raw and microwaved apple, soft drink, green tea, and lemon juice all helped. Hmm… sounds like I should order a limoncello for dessert the next time I go out for Italian. Troppo male!

Deodorization of Garlic Breath Volatiles by Food and Food Components.

“The ability of foods and beverages to reduce allyl methyl disulfide, diallyl disulfide, allyl mercaptan, and allyl methyl sulfide on human breath after consumption of raw garlic was examined. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: eat me, smell you later

He thought he had intestinal worms. What he actually had was Chinese food!

By Seriously Science | April 6, 2017 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Roland Tanglao

Image: Flickr/Roland Tanglao

If my body could play an April Fool’s joke on me, my guess it would be this one. Here, a 32 year old patient was horrified to notice “worms” in his poop. And like any sane person would, he carefully fished a sample of the worm-laden poop out of the toilet to bring to his doctor. Given the patient’s travel history, the doctor suspected a hookworm infection, and sent the sample off to the lab. Turns out the “worms” were mung bean sprouts from the previous night’s Chinese food. As the authors note: “When analyzing stool contents, even if parasitic infections are suspected, taking a careful history of the patient’s diet can help make a diagnosis. In this case, microbiologic analysis might have been avoided had a connection been made between the stool contents and the patient’s dinner the night before. Knowledge of the different varieties of bean sprouts could also have aided in making the final diagnosis.” Hat tip to Therese for sending us this gem!

The parasite that wasn’t. A case of mistaken identity.

“Intestinal parasites can cause substantial mortality and morbidity and are common in primary care. The 2 main types of intestinal parasites are helminths and protozoa. Helminths are generally visible to the naked eye in their adult stages, whereas protozoa are single-celled organisms. Common intestinal helminth parasites include Enterobius vermicularis (the pinworm), Ancylostoma duodenale (the Old World hookworm), Necator americanus (the New World hookworm), Taenia saginata (the beef tapeworm), and Ascaris lumbricoides (the giant roundworm). All of these intestinal parasites and their eggs can pass through the digestive system and be found in the stool. The pinworm is the most common intestinal parasite, followed closely by the hookworm. Diagnostic clues regarding intestinal parasites can be found in the patient’s clinical history, hygiene status, and history of recent travel to endemic areas.3 However, microscopic visualization and identification of the parasite are necessary for definitive diagnosis and guidance of treatment.
Read More

Surprising study finds that cats actually prefer people over food.

By Seriously Science | April 3, 2017 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Live Once Live Wild

Photo: flickr/Live Once Live Wild

If you’ve ever had a cat, you probably believe that, given the choice, your cat would always choose food over you. But assumptions are not always correct, which is why we test them with science! Here, scientists tested whether pet and shelter cats prefer social interaction, food, scent, or toys. They found that “although there was clear individual variability in cat preference, social interaction with humans was the most-preferred stimulus category for the majority of cats, followed by food.” Now, doesn’t that make you feel special?

Social interaction, food, scent or toys? A formal assessment of domestic pet and shelter cat (Felis silvestris catus) preferences

“Domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) engage in a variety of relationships with humans and can be conditioned to engage in numerous behaviors using Pavlovian and operant methods. Increasingly cat cognition research is providing evidence of their complex socio-cognitive and problem solving abilities. Nonetheless, it is still common belief that cats are not especially sociable or trainable. This disconnect may be due, in part, to a lack of knowledge of what stimuli cats prefer, and thus may be most motivated to work for. The current study investigated domestic cat preferences at the individual and population level using a free operant preference assessment. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals

Flashback Friday: On the purpose of saying “ow” when you hurt yourself.

By Seriously Science | March 31, 2017 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Mark Lee

Photo: flickr/Mark Lee

If you bite your tongue or stub your toe, your first instinct is probably to yell. But have you ever wondered why that is? According to this study, being vocal could actually help you tolerate the pain. Here, the authors tested how long subjects could keep their hands immersed in very cold water before they couldn’t take it anymore. The researchers found that saying “ow” during the experiment increased the subjects’ tolerance for pain, but hearing a recording of their own voice or someone else’s voice saying “ow” did not. These results are consistent with a previous study that found that swearing is also an effective way to increase pain tolerance; both studies suggest that the vocalization helps distract you from the pain and could be related to an evolutionarily-preserved “flight-or-flight” response. 

On the Importance of Being Vocal: Saying “Ow” Improves Pain Tolerance

“Vocalizing is a ubiquitous pain behavior. The present study investigated whether it helps alleviate pain and sought to discern potential underlying mechanisms. Participants were asked to immerse one hand in painfully cold water. On separate trials, they said “ow,” heard a recording of them saying “ow,” heard a recording of another person saying “ow,” pressed a button, or sat passively. Compared to sitting passively, saying “ow” increased the duration of hand immersion. Read More


Which state Googles “porn” the most? The answer might surprise you.

By Seriously Science | March 29, 2017 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Caden Crawford

Photo: flickr/Caden Crawford

Google Trends has become a productive source of data for social scientists, particularly those interested in when and where people search for the word “porn”. First, they discovered that porn searches peaked in winter and early summer, a result that lead them to believe that there actually is a human mating season. Now, they’ve looked at the results by state, and found some more interesting patterns.

Perhaps not surprisingly, “higher percentages of Evangelical Protestants, theists, and biblical literalists in a state predict higher frequencies of searching for porn, as do higher church attendance rates.” The state with the highest search rate? You guessed it: Mississippi, followed closely by Texas. The authors conclude that “more salient, traditional religious influences in a state may influence residents–whether religious or not–toward more covert sexual experiences.”

 Unbuckling the Bible Belt: A State-Level Analysis of Religious Factors and Google Searches for Porn.

“While the link between individual religious characteristics and pornography consumption is well established, relatively little research has considered how the wider religious context may influence pornography use. Exceptions in the literature to date have relied on relatively broad, subjective measures of religious commitment, largely ignoring issues of religious belonging, belief, or practice. This study moves the conversation forward by examining how a variety of state-level religious factors predict Google searches for the term porn, net of relevant sociodemographic and ideological controls. Read More


As the weather warms up, watch out for lime disease.

By Seriously Science | March 27, 2017 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Mark Hillary

Image: Flickr/Mark Hillary

Make no mistake, contact dermatitis is no joke, as this poor woman learned firsthand. The culprit? Squeezing limes and lemons for a large batch of sangria followed by exposure to the sun without sunscreen, which resulted in giant blisters on her hands the next day. Ouch! If you dare, check out the image of the poor woman’s fingers linked to below. It’s… intense.

Phytophotodermatitis from making sangria: a phototoxic reaction to lime and lemon juice.

“A 26-year-old woman presented to the emergency department with a painful blistering eruption on her hands. She had been squeezing limes and lemons while making sangria the previous day. She had spent the rest of the day outdoors in the sun without sunscreen. 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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