Stories tagged gross

Oct
29
2009

Deer Rumen: Opening up a deer's rumen.
Deer Rumen: Opening up a deer's rumen.Courtesy Kirk Mona
Ever wondered what's inside the stomach of a deer? For those not afraid of some graphic photos, the Twin Cities Naturalist Blog. has posted photos and descriptions of the four parts of a deer's stomach. Here's a quick overview.

  • The Rumen is a fermentation and storage vat. Micro-organisms break down a lot of food in the Rumen so it can be absorbed by the deer but it does not physically break down the food with acid like a human stomach.
  • The Reticulum is basically a filter that allows small particles to pass to the Omasum.
  • The Omasum acts like a sponge that draws off excess water before food is passed to the next step.
  • The Abomasum works like your stomach to break down food with acid so nutrients can be absorbed.

You can see all the photos and read more at Twin Cities Naturalist.

Aug
13
2009

Tens of thousands of childhood nightmares: wrapped up in one little package.
Tens of thousands of childhood nightmares: wrapped up in one little package.Courtesy bug_girl_mi
Remember stumbling through the world as a stupid little kid? You touched bugs. You dug holes. You explored mud. And then… then you heard about killer bees. Killer bees and flesh-eating diseases. Killer bees, flesh-eating diseases, and tiny eggs that could come off a picnic table, get into your body, and hatch into something that would eat your brain.

It wasn’t the end of your childhood, it just gave you something to think about all the time. No, you’re childhood didn’t end until you were able to convince yourself that these things—killer bees, flesh-eating bacteria, brain eggs—were harmless… if they even exist at all.

Well guess what: they do. They exist, and they are dangerous! Your childhood is long gone, and now so is your adulthood. Welcome to the next stage in your life: The childhood nightmare spotlight!

Today’s feature: raccoon poop brain parasites! They’re real, and they’re all up in your brains!

So, what’s nice about raccoon poop brain parasites as a childhood nightmare—as opposed to childhood nightmares like killer bees, or one of those little fish that will swim up your urethra—is that even we fancy city-folk are vulnerable to it.

See, there is, in this world, a thing called Baylisascaris procyonis. B. procyonis is a species of roundworm. It is a parasitic species of roundworm, in fact, known to infest the guts of raccoons. Should procyonis eggs find their way into a human (and more on ust how they might do that in a minute), there’s no need to worry about them turning into worms and going crazy in the intestines—the parasite really only wants to do that to raccoons. Instead, the eggs hatch into larvae, and enter the blood stream, traveling about the body to wherever suits them. I think that whoever wrote the wikipedia article on them puts what happens next rather well:

A great deal of damage occurs wherever the larva tries to make a home. In response to the attack, the body attempts to destroy it by walling it off or killing it. The larva moves rapidly to escape, seeking out the liver, eyes, spinal cord or brain. Occasionally they can be found in the heart, lungs, and other organs.

This can lead to a whole range of symptoms from skin irritation to blindness to brain damage (and what doctors call “craziness”) to death.

So how do they get in you? You have to eat poorly cooked raccoon, or uncooked raccoon feces.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Phew! It’s been years since I’ve had undercooked raccoon, and I almost never put raccoon feces in my mouth anymore. Not since college! I don’t even know where to get raccoon feces these days!”

Shows what you know. Raccoons are everywhere, even in your precious, safe cities. And when they pick a spot to relieve themselves, they really go for it. Raccoons, as it happens, us communal “latrines.” That means that multiple raccoons will pick a spot in, say, your back yard, to all go to the bathroom on. Each gram of raccoon feces can contain up to 20,000 worm eggs, so when you’ve got a latrine full of raccoon mess, you’ve got plenty of potential brain parasites. Especially if you’re in the habit of putting everything in your mouth, or of cleaning your yard with a leaf-blower. (The leaf blower would fill the air—and possibly your mouth—with tiny particles of raccoon feces and brain parasite eggs.)

Not many people get the disease (only 14 in the last 30 years, says this article, or possibly 25 in the last 6 years, like this article says) but getting it is bad enough that you might want to give it a little thought. Or lots of though, late at night. Don’t believe me? Read this article again.

The best way to avoid it is to keep that raccoon feces out of your mouth. And to follow the simple tips on cleaning up raccoon latrines offered in this article (which you already looked at). My favorite anti-raccoon latrine tip? “Flame” the latrine with a propane torch! It’s like Aliens!

At any rate, you’re probably safe. Possibly safe. Safe-ish.

You really could have raccoon poop brain parasites, you know. There were probably some on your deck, and you didn’t even think about it when you were eating that watermelon.

You probably have a headache right now.

Jun
05
2009

Whatever.
Whatever.Courtesy Kabies
Today’s extravaganza, dear Buzzketeers, is a journey of self-discovery.

Don’t worry. There are quizzes involved.

So how about it kids? What makes you hurl?

What gets your motor running, and then makes it blurt chunky oil everywhere?

What’s your poison? Are you a bread ‘n butter, rats and roaches gal? Ketchup and icecream? Centipedes running though the kitchen? What about the thought of spiders, under your sheets at night, exploring you, perhaps finding their way to the warm cavern of your open mouth…

Or are you repulsed by dark glimpses of the other side (of being alive). The swollen and splitting stomach of a road killed dear? Maggots on the trash? A misplaced kneecap? …Brains?

What about the constant hacking, mucus-laden noises of your classmate? A prolonged embrace from an aunt who smells so strongly of… something? The firm, dry handshake of a Canadian?

(I don’t mean to offend Canadians here. I only used them as an example because they are so universally well liked that no one would assume I was being serious. Please, substitute whichever group of people you personally revile.)

Yes, today is the day of disgust. It smells like bile and puss, it sounds like nails on a chalkboard, it feels like the movement of tiny, alien legs on your skin, and it looks like Kuato from Total Recall. And it’s pretty interesting.

Basic elements of disgust are pretty easy to understand. In general, we’re pretty grossed out by the sorts of things that, should they find their way into our bodies somehow, could make us ill. Rotten food, some insects, etc. But then we’re also sometimes disgusted by groups of people or behaviors that pose no threat of contaminating us in any way. And, as this very useful page points out, disgust even plays a significant role in many of our religions, in how they regulate behaviors and bodily processes.

Really, that last link is the true extravaganza today. Check it out. Or don’t check it out, and go straight to this page to take a quiz on what sort of disgust you specialize in, and how it compares to others who have taken the quiz. Nowhere in the quiz, thank Blob, is the phase “It’s scary accurate!!!” written. It’s a little more scientific than that, but still interesting. What you end up with is a scale that shows how disgust plays not only into your actual health, but also into your morals (or… how morals play into your disgust?) The results are broken into “Core disgust,” which covers the sort of things we find gross because the could porentially make us sick (the rotten meat and bugs thing), “Animal-reminder disgust,” which comes from “death, corpses, and violations of the external boundaries of the body,” and is all about reminding us of our own mortality (they make us think about how we can and will die), and, finally, “Contamination disgust,” which is about whole-body contamination (as opposed to just the mouth), and covers our disgust for “dirty or sleazy people.”

I’d invite y’all to share your results with the Buzz community, and to let us know if the ratings make sense for you, but if you’re feeling private, take a gander at JGordon’s scores:

For “Core Disgust” I scored a .9. The average for the other 37,100 people tested was 1.9. This makes sense. I did, after all, eat a peanut I found in my sock this morning. But I would never eat that peanut a second time.

For “Animal-reminder Disgust” I got a 1.6, the same as the average score. In general, I consider myself to be slightly below average, but this also makes sense. I do fear death. Or, at least, I fear the dead. Zombies, I mean. This may have skewed the results some, but I suspect it’s in the correct neighborhood.

And for “Contamination Disgust” I scored a mere .2, next to the average of 1.1. Again, it makes sense. Being very sleazy myself (I moisturize with my own spit), I can’t afford to look down on other sleazebags, or else I’d be even lonelier. (Hey, don’t worry, I’ve got my Beanie Babies to keep me company. They’re all stuffed with the appropriate animal feces, by the way.)

While you’re stewing on all that, check this out: pretty soon we may be able to go out and get maggot juice to rub into our many open sores. Rad, huh? Science Buzz regulars will know that we’re all about maggots here. It’s mostly Liza, I suppose, but there’s not one of us that didn’t push a fist into the pig and enjoy it at least a little bit. (Some part of this is not true.)

Anyway, maggot juice. Maggots’ abilities to help a would stay clean and heal is well documented, but now there are some scientists who are convinced that they’ve figured out exactly why maggots are so beneficial to healing tissue. They have isolated an enzyme in the goo that gooey little maggots secret, which seems to remove decaying tissue from a wound, thereby preventing bacteria from building up at the site. If the enzyme could be reproduced, or just milked from maggots or something, we could remove the maggots from maggoty therapy. How about that? So now you just have to decide which disgusts you the least: maggot milk, maggots, or your own tissue rotting on your body.

Ding! Extravaganza over!

(Good looking out, Gene and Liza, for the links.)

Apr
22
2009

We check for trees, da?
We check for trees, da?Courtesy Bethany L King
I know all y'all have been keeping your eyes on Science Buzz for updates in the case of the Russian dude with the tree "growing" in his lung. It's an international news event, after all, and we all like to keep up on this stuff.

Well we've got an update! (And update that appeared in the news last week, but still...)

Some South African medical professionals are calling shenanigans on the whole situation; they say it has to be a hoax.

They agree with the Russian doctors' claims that a 5 cm tree would be too big to inhale all the way into the lungs (it would be coughed out, or get caught on something long before it got so deep), but they don't think that it could have grown there either.

As several of the Science Buzz Lung Tree Task Force have likewise noticed, the South Africans find the green color of the needles a little suspicious. Usually plants growing in the dark (and the lungs are pretty dark inside) tend to be a little pale. Not so with this tree.

Also, the doctors point out that there is no precedence in medical literature for plants growing in people—it's just not the right environment.

The doctors also thought that the the tree looked "folded in to the lung tissue." Had it grown there, it should have looked more interwoven with the flesh.

Finally, they believe that the X-ray image of the man's lungs and the tree/tissue that was eventually taken out do not match. Something about how the tree showed up too much or not enough on the X-ray. (The translation from South African English to American English, perhaps, is the source of my confusion here.)

So the plot thickens. Are Russian surgeons contradicting biological laws to get attention, or are the the South Africans jealous because they've never found a tree inside someone's lung? Either way, we citizens of the Nation of Buzzahkstan are the winners.

Keep your eyes peeled for further developments. (Not literally.)

May
10
2008

It's brown and the consistency of motor oil...: But what does it smell like?
It's brown and the consistency of motor oil...: But what does it smell like?Courtesy Jill Greenseth
Here at Science Buzz, we strive to keep all y’all Buzzketeers surfing on crest of the new wave, sliding down the cutting edge of the razor that is the future, and, um, up to date on new things. With this in mind, I thought it was important to inform you of the latest, greatest craze in dealing with your useless dead body: alkaline hydrolysis. For everyone already in the know, please just put your heads down on your desks, and wait quietly while the rest of us catch up. Thank you.

Alkaline hydrolysis is, if possible, even cooler than it sounds, and as simple as ABC, but I’ll walk you through it from the beginning. So… You’re born (embarrassing!), you go to prom (best night ever), you live your life (boooring), and then you die. And then what? You’ve got this dead body on your hands, and it’s too big for the garbage disposal in the sink, and Goodwill won’t accept them any more, so what are you supposed to do? Bury it? Yeah, if you’re some kind of chump. Oh, hey, why not bury your body? People have only been doing that for, like, thousands of years. Please. You wouldn’t wear sunglasses from a thousand years ago—everybody would know how lame you are—so why bury your lousy body like they would then? What else…a Viking funeral, maybe? Well, I hate to break it to you, but there some things are just too cool, and most people can’t pull them off. For your average dead Joe, trying to go out with a Viking funeral would be like…like wearing an Armani suit to your fish gutting job—not the right fit.

Fortunately, for the rest of us, technology has come through and offered a fancy new way to go: dissolving your body in lye. One minute you’re a sad, dead old man lying on a slab, and a few hours later you’re a “brown, syrupy residue” ready to be dumped out on the street. This is alkaline hydrolysis.

Basically what happens is this: you’re put into a large tank filled with a lye solution, heated up to 300 degrees, and submitted to about 60 pounds of pressure per square inch (about the same as the pressure in a bicycle tire). It’s like being in a pressure cooker, kind of, but a little more intense. What’s left when you’re done cooking are a few little crunchy solids, and a “coffee-colored liquid with the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell,” which can be safely poured down the drain (or toilet, depending on your preference). Or maybe you could have it misted over the guests at your funeral service. Anything’s possible!Another body prepared in lye: but this one is for eating!
Another body prepared in lye: but this one is for eating!Courtesy hilderbrant

Alkaline hydrolysis is currently only legal—in medical facilities—in Minnesota (yes!) and New Hampshire, but some folks are pushing to have it become a legal process at funeral homes around the country. It’s environmentally cleaner, they argue, than cremation, and doesn’t require the physical space of burial. It would hardly be the grossest thing dumped down our drains, too, as blood and spillover embalming fluid are routinely flushed away at funeral homes. Opponents point out that it’s kind of yucky. Also, some believe that the process is an “undignified” way to treat a human body. To this I say, “True, sir, true, but you know what else is undignified? Belly shirts. And we’ve gotten used to those. Some people even like them.”

So, yeah, get used to it folks. The future is now, and it’s brown, syrupy, and smells like a litter box.

May
03
2008

A harmless bot fly: kind of cute, really.
A harmless bot fly: kind of cute, really.Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Have you thrown up yet today?

Oh, you haven’t? That’s fine if you haven’t. Not even an issue, really.

Forget that. Let’s go and learn about science!

Have y’all heard of the bot fly? They’re a little gray fly, native to the Americas, and they’ve got the most fascinating life-cycle.

Just a second—it feels like there’s a tiny person with diarrhea camping out in my stomach. Sorry, that was totally unrelated.

Anyway, the bot fly has a remarkable life cycle, especially the bot fly species dermatobia hominis. Pupating in the soil, the adult d. hominis emerges after about a week, and sets out looking for a mate and a mosquito. Once the bot fly finds and catches a mosquito, surprisingly, it doesn’t hurt the captured insect at all. The fly just attaches its own eggs to the mosquito’s body.

Now, I know what you’re thinking—you’re thinking that this is going to be one of those bugs that lays its eggs in another insect and leaves it alive so that when the eggs hatch the new larva can eat the living host. Get that thought out of your head right now; it’s simply not the case.

Oh, man, I feel like I’m salivating a lot. And burping.

Anyway, now we have this mosquito giving bot fly eggs a friendly lift. The mosquito goes about its life, looking for a blood meal. When the mosquito finds a mammal to drink from (usually a monkey or a person in the case of d. hominis), the eggs hatch, and the itty-bitty bot fly larva drop off the mosquito on to its host. The larvas then crawl into the tiny hole conveniently provided by the mosquito, and make a little home for themselves. For the next eight weeks, they feed off the tissue under the skin of their host until they grow into a large grub, about three quarters of an inch long, ringed with strong, hooked barbs, which make extracting the larva quite difficult and painful. Once the eight weeks are up, they chew their way out of the skin, and drop to the ground, where they burrow into the dirt. And about a week later…an adult fly is born once again! Isn’t nature a miracle?

Wait! Don’t leave yet! I have something else for you: a video I like to call The miracle of (bot fly) birth. I can’t make you watch it, but you probably should.

Now I think I have to go lie down and take some deep breaths

Apr
27
2008

No, this isn't it: I just thought this picture was pretty awesome.
No, this isn't it: I just thought this picture was pretty awesome.Courtesy Lori Oberhofer, National Parks Service
See, I always thought I wanted to die from being suffocated by cotton candy, or maybe from a Super Mario Brothers-triggered seizure. Well, Fate, cross that nonsense off the list, because something more than a little bit better came up: I want to die from having a little songbird rip its way out of my chest.

The decision isn’t final, by any means—there are still some details to work out before I really make a commitment. Do I, for instance, want to eat the little bird first (swallow it whole and alive, of course), or would it be better to have a mother bird lay its eggs in my chest, and have the young burst out later (think Alien)? Whatever the specifics, though, I think it’s a pretty good way to go.

Where do you get these genius ideas, JGordon? Well, I can’t take total credit for the death—the basic concept was really Nature’s, and I just built on it. That’s right, somehow, of all the things happening in the world, I found out about a sharp-shinned hawk in California that was found dead last month with the claws of a songbird emerging from its chest. What are the chances? I don’t mean the chances of a hawk eating a songbird, and then of the eaten bird’s clawed foot ripping through the hawk’s body, but the chances that of all the dead birds in the world, this one would find its way onto the Internet, and then to me. It’s fate.

There’s not much of a story to tell, really. An animal rescue worker was driving home and noticed the hawk lying by the road. Hoping to rescue the bird, she pulled over and carefully picked it up. Unfortunately, it had the remains of its last meal, probably a sparrow, spilling out of its chest. Yuckers! And there’s no cure for that! Sharp-shinned hawks usually don’t eat the heads or feet of their avian prey, probably for just this reason, but this sparrow was apparently just too delicious.

Anyhoo, here are the pictures: Here and here.

While you’re at it, look at this too.

Sep
16
2007

It's like a big angel food cake, running right at you: If you've got the right combination of genes.  (photo by castle79 on flickr.com)
It's like a big angel food cake, running right at you: If you've got the right combination of genes. (photo by castle79 on flickr.com)
Picture a big mug of some hot, vanilla flavored beverage. Think about how it smells…
Now do the same for a big, hot mug of urine. Now hold that thought.

Androstenone is a testosterone derivative produced in our bodies, and found in our urine and sweat. It is partially responsible for the less than charming smell of these fluids, as it smells like, well, urine and b.o. But it only smells like urine and b.o. to some people – to others it smells a lot like vanilla, and to others still, it smells like nothing at all.

Recently, scientists think they have isolated the gene that determines how people perceive the odor of androstenone. A group of four hundred people were presented with 66 different odors at two concentrations, and asked to evaluate the pleasantness and intensity of each odor. Blood samples were then taken from each participant for genetic testing. The study found that whether a person found androstenone foul or pleasant depended on the combination of “two point mutations called single nucleotide polymorphisms” along a particular odorant receptor gene. Isn’t that something? So, whether a junior high locker room smells like a bakery or an adolescent nightmare all depends the luck of the genetic draw (although I’m not sure that either option is all that great).

Some mammals use androstenone to pass on social and sexual messages. It’s possible that it played some similar role in humans, although, if this is the case, scientists can’t explain why so many people simply lack the ability to smell androstenone at all.

A fun fact: males produce much more androstenone than females. Sorry ladies, but there are some things that we men just do better than you, like producing really stinky chemicals.

May
11
2005

Biotherapy is the use of animals to diagnose or treat diseases or to assist the ill or impaired.

A leech: it does a body good?
A leech: it does a body good?Courtesy Michael Jefferies

One biotherapy that many of us are familiar with is seeing eye dogs. A less common biotherapy is the use of household pets, such as dogs or cats, in long term care facilities to improve the mood of and provide companionship for the people living there.

But other, less familiar animals have been put to medicinal purposes, too. Leeches have been used for thousands of years for various "medical" uses, and have recently been approved as a medical device by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Doctors use leeches to restore blood circulation after cosmetic or reconstructive surgery.

Maggot therapy has also staged a comeback. Doctors use maggots to treat and clean problematic wounds.

Honey bee therapy (or apitherapy), is the use of honey bee venom—which contains anti-inflammatory substances—to relieve pain in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Apitherapy can also help treat some neurological syndromes, such as multiple sclerosis.

What do you think of biotherapy? How would you react if a doctor told you that they were going to treat you with leeches or maggots?

Want to learn more about biotherapy? The BTER Foundation is an organization dedicated to supporting patient care, education, and research in biotherapy and symbiotic medicine. The International Biotherapy Society is another organization devoted to supporting the use and understanding of living organisms in the treatment of human illnesses.