These plastic-eating worms could be the solution to pollution.

By Seriously Science | November 5, 2015 6:00 am

20150930lnp3-mealwormsWe all know that plastic is generally terrible for the environment because it doesn’t biodegrade, and just sits in landfills. (Or even worse, gets tangled around some poor animal’s neck!) Fortunately, the lowly mealworm may hold the answer. As these scientists report, the worm Plodia interpunctella contains bacterial strains in its gut that are capable of breaking down polyethylene, the most common form of plastic (found in grocery bags, plastic bottles, and much more). Now if only we could figure out how to host these bacteria in our own guts, and simply eat our food packaging instead of throwing it away…

Evidence of Polyethylene Biodegradation by Bacterial Strains from the Guts of Plastic-Eating Waxworms

“ABSTRACT: Polyethylene (PE) has been considered nonbiodegradable for decades. Although the biodegradation of PE by bacterial cultures has been occasionally described, valid evidence of PE biodegradation has remained limited in the literature. We found that waxworms, or Indian mealmoths (the larvae of Plodia interpunctella), were capable of chewing and eating PE films. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals

Thank heavens, someone figured out which bacteria live on a donkey’s penis.

By Seriously Science | November 3, 2015 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/bagsgroove

Photo: flickr/bagsgroove

Have you ever wondered what kind of bacteria live on a donkey’s penis? You haven’t? Well, these researchers are here to tell you anyway! In an effort to fill this gaping hole in our knowledge of donkey penises and microbiology, they cultured bacterial flora from prepubertal, mature intact, and castrated donkeys. Read on for the titillating results!

Bacterial and fungal microflora on the external genitalia of male donkeys (Equus asinus)

“This study was undertaken to investigate the bacterial and fungal microflora on the external genitalia of a population of healthy male donkeys in the state of Michigan, USA. The aim was to identify and determine the frequency of occurrence of these microorganisms using seven different isolation media and standard microbiological procedures. The sites (urethral fossa [fossa glandis], dorsal diverticulum of the urethral sinus, distal urethra, and penile surface) in the distal reproductive tract were cultured and each isolated microorganism identified. Ten different genera of gram-positive bacteria, eight different genera of gram-negative bacteria, and two genera of fungi were isolated from the external genitalia of the 43 donkeys in this study. Read More

Halloween Flashback Friday: If you are afraid of spiders, don’t read this…and PLEASE don’t look at the pictures.

By Seriously Science | October 30, 2015 6:00 am

Although published by American Entomologist in 2010, this paper has been making the rounds lately, and we had to blog about it too because it’s SO AWESOME. Well, awesome and creepy… very creepy. This entomological equivalent of a medical case study chronicles the findings of a group of infestation experts who answered a cry for help from a wastewater treatment plant in Maryland. The plant, which had always been home to spiders, was under seige by over a million orb-weavers that had blanketed everything inside the four-acre open-walled building. Even Spiderman would be impressed with the architectural wonder built by these prolific arachnids!

An Immense Concentration of Orb-Weaving Spiders With Communal Webbing in a Man-Made Structural Habitat (Arachnida: Araneae: Tetragnathidae, Araneidae).

“In late October, 2009, the managers of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Baltimore, MD sought assistance in mitigating what they described as an “extreme spider situation” in their sand filtration facility. The building, consisting of almost four acres (16,099 square meters) under a single roof but with no side walls, had been prone to extensive colonization by orb-weaving spiders since its construction in 1993. However, the present infestation was considered to be worse than normal, and the facility’s maintenance and operations personnel had voiced concerns over the potential risk of bites. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals

Horrifying study suggests pythons kill their prey by squeezing until the brain becomes over-pressurized.

By Seriously Science | October 28, 2015 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/jinterwas

Image: Flickr/jinterwas

We all know that constrictor snakes, like pythons and boa constrictors, kill by squeezing their prey. But how does the prey actually die? Well, according to this study, it may not be by suffocation (which is what I had always naively assumed). Nope, it’s much more grisly: “These and other constrictors can exert pressures dramatically higher than their prey’s blood pressure, suggesting that constriction can stop circulatory function and perhaps kill prey rapidly by over-pressurizing the brain and disrupting neural function.” Sweet dreams!

The big squeeze: scaling of constriction pressure in two of the world’s largest snakes, Python reticulatus and P. molurus bivittatus.

“Snakes are important predators that have radiated throughout many ecosystems, and constriction was important in their radiation. Constrictors immobilize and kill prey by using body loops to exert pressure on their prey. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals

Study shows that you can run on water…on the moon.

By Seriously Science | October 26, 2015 6:00 am

Figure 1. Running on water in Basilisk lizard (A, Basiliscus basiliscus), and human in our laboratory conditions (B). The fins used are illustrated in C.

These three Italian scientists deserve a prize for the most superhero-inspired experiment: they first used mathematical modeling to predict that humans would be able to walk on water in reduced gravity, and then they actually tested it with special flipper shoes and a kiddie pool! As they note in their introduction, “Notwithstanding various internet hoaxes, humans are apparently incapable of walking or running on water.” (Never have I wished so much for a citation as at the end of that sentence… please amend this oversight in the comments!) And boy, do I wish my Ph.D. dissertation was half as fun as the experiments in the video below. Seriously–if you need someone to go on a lunar mission to splash across a kiddie pool in order to test this hypothesis more rigorously, sign me up!

Humans Running in Place on Water at Simulated Reduced Gravity.

“Background: On Earth only a few legged species, such as water strider insects, some aquatic birds and lizards, can run on water. For most other species, including humans, this is precluded by body size and proportions, lack of appropriate appendages, and limited muscle power. However, if gravity is reduced to less than Earth’s gravity, running on water should require less muscle power. Here we use a hydrodynamic model to predict the gravity levels at which humans should be able to run on water. We test these predictions in the laboratory using a reduced gravity simulator. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: rated G, super powers

Flashback Friday: Didn’t get that promotion? Maybe your name’s to blame.

By Seriously Science | October 23, 2015 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/quinet

Photo: flickr/quinet

If your last name is King or Prince, listen up — you might be destined for greatness. In this “field study,” German researchers determined whether people with different last names tend to end up in different jobs. They found that people with noble-sounding names, like “Kaiser”, were more likely to hold managerial positions than people with more blue-collar-job-sounding names, like Koch (“cook”). Whether this is cause (people get promotions because of their names) or effect (people with noble-sounding names are more likely to go for promotions) remains to be determined. The authors also have a caveat to those in the USA: “Future studies should assess whether noble-sounding surnames are less likely to affect career outcomes in cultures in which coworkers commonly refer to each other by their first name (e.g., the United States), and the person’s surname is therefore less salient. Noble-sounding surnames may be more predictive of attaining managerial roles in formal cultures, in which individuals customarily address one another by their last name.”

It Pays to Be Herr Kaiser: Germans With Noble-Sounding Surnames More Often Work as Managers Than as Employees.

“In the field study reported here (N = 222,924), we found that Germans with noble-sounding surnames, such as Kaiser (“emperor”), König (“king”), and Fürst (“prince”), more frequently hold managerial positions than Germans with last names that either refer to common everyday occupations, such as Koch (“cook”), Bauer (“farmer”), and Becker/Bäcker (“baker”), or do not refer to any social role. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: reinforcing stereotypes

Scientists identify the top 10 relationship deal-breakers

By Seriously Science | October 22, 2015 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/K. Kendall

Photo: flickr/K. Kendall

Finally, an expression popularized by the TV show 30 Rock has made it into the scientific literature. In this study, the scientists used surveys to identify and rank the top 10 relationship deal-breakers for both short-term and long-term relationships. The table is reproduced below, and you’ll note some interesting patterns–for example, “is bad in bed” and “smells bad” are only deal-breakers for short-term relationships. People also tended to weigh deal-breakers more heavily than “deal-makers” (e.g., “is intelligent” or “has a good sense of humor”).  In the spirit of continuing this important research, please share your own deal-breakers in the comments below!

Relationship Dealbreakers: Traits People Avoid in Potential Mates

“Mate preference research has focused on traits people desire in partners (i.e., deal-makers) rather than what traits they avoid (i.e., deal-breakers), but mate preferences calibrate to both maximize benefits and minimize costs. Across six studies (N > 6,500), we identified and examined relationship deal-breakers, and how they function across relationship contexts. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: duh, feelings shmeelings, Sex & Mating

That ape’s got rhythm! Chimpanzees play drums just like humans (with music goodness).

By Seriously Science | October 20, 2015 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Tambako the Jaguar

Photo: flickr/Tambako the Jaguar

Drummers may have a reputation as being the wildest members of a band, but apparently they have nothing on chimpanzees. In this study, the authors describe “an episode of spontaneous drumming” by a captive chimp named Barney that has many properties usually associated with human drumming. Barney’s instrument of choice was an overturned bucket, and his performance was unique particularly because of the evenness of his drumming (prior to this study, researchers thought that non-human primates did not display this kind of musicality). Click below to listen to Barney’s full album!

Chimpanzee drumming: a spontaneous performance with characteristics of human musical drumming.

“Despite the quintessential role that music plays in human societies by enabling us to release and share emotions with others, traces of its evolutionary origins in other species remain scarce. Drumming like humans whilst producing music is practically unheard of in our most closely related species, the great apes. Although beating on tree roots and body parts does occur in these species, it has, musically speaking, little in common with human drumming. Researchers suggest that for manual beating in great apes to be compared to human drumming, it should at least be structurally even, a necessary quality to elicit entrainment (beat induction in others). Here we report an episode of spontaneous drumming by a captive chimpanzee that approaches the structural and contextual characteristics usually found in musical drumming. Read More

Flashback Friday: Study finds men are more likely to think a woman’s a floozy if she’s just sitting next to a beer.

By Seriously Science | October 16, 2015 6:00 am

Photo: Flickr/Ninha MorandiniPrevious studies (not to mention our own experiences) have shown that men think drunk women want to get laid. But how much of that is drunk behavior, and how much is simply the presence of alcohol? To answer this question, scientists had participants watch one of two silent sixty-second movies of a man and woman interacting. In one version, the woman had a bottle of beer next to her, and in the other version, a bottle of water, neither of which she drank. The 69 male and 78 female participants were then asked to rate the couple on a number of different criteria. The results showed that men rated the actress as more flirtatious, promiscuous, and seductive when she was sitting next to the beer. This bias was much more pronounced in men than women, implying that it isn’t simply due to broad social stereotypes — although those probably don’t help either.

The effect of gender and alcohol placement in the processing of sexual intent.

“INTRODUCTION AND AIMS: Alcohol consumption in women is known to be perceived by men as signalling sexual intent. However, it is unclear whether such assumptions extend to the simple presence of alcohol. The present study investigated the association between gender and alcohol placement on processing of sexual intent. Read More


Scientists use a “robo-cowboy” to explain the physics behind lassos.

By Seriously Science | October 14, 2015 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/meridican

Image: Flickr/meridican

There’s a special kind of awesome that happens when scientists use their powers to dissect fun things, be it a game, or, in this case, a rope trick. Here, physicists used mathematical modeling to attempt to understand how cowboys manage to do those dazzling tricks with their lassos. It turns out that even a “flat loop”, the simplest of rope tricks, is difficult to understand. But, after pages of math, and with the help of a “robo-cowboy,” they were able to develop a physical model that explains the flat loop. Even better, high speed video of a professional backed up their model. Yee-haw!

An introduction to the mechanics of the lasso.

“Trick roping evolved from humble origins as a cattle-catching tool into a sport that delights audiences all over the world with its complex patterns or ‘tricks’. Its fundamental tool is the lasso, formed by passing one end of a rope through a small loop (the honda) at the other end. Here, we study the mechanics of the simplest rope trick, the Flat Loop, in which the rope is driven by the steady circular motion of the roper’s hand in a horizontal plane. 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!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]

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