There's been a lot of crap in the news lately, and for a change I mean that literally. Let's start with the study presented last November 18 at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics entitled “How Do Wombats Make Cubed Poo?” Yes, wombats produce dicelike discharges. The marsupial's unique ability attracted the attention of researchers who looked at the innards recovered from two wombats lost in the everyday carnage of roadways around the world.
“In the final 8 percent of the intestine,” the dung detectives wrote, “feces changed from a liquid-like state into a solid state composed of separated cubes of length 2 cm. This shape change was due to the azimuthally varying elastic properties of the intestinal wall.” After that inspection, they emptied the intestines and inflated them, presumably not by mouth.
“We found,” they wrote, “that the local strain varies from 20 percent at the cube's corners to 75 percent at its edges. Thus, the intestine stretches preferentially at the walls to facilitate cube formation. This study addresses the long-standing mystery of cubic scat formation and provides insight into new manufacturing techniques for non-axisymmetric structures using soft tissues.” At long last, 3M meets BM.
Back in March 2018, Israeli researchers published a study in the journal Applied Energy stating that poultry expulsions could be pressure-cooked into a burnable powder that might replace some coal in electricity production. Or even be pressed into briquettes for cooking. Just before Thanksgiving, NPR did a story about this research and pointed out that someone could theoretically collect a turkey's droppings over its lifetime, turn that mess into fuel and then use it to cook the very same turkey. Perhaps selective breeding could even get the hapless bird to go pluck itself.
In the December 20th edition of the Journal of Cleaner Production, the same Israeli group published a similar study with human excreta. To quote: “It is postulated that hydrothermal carbonization of human excreta could potentially serve as a sustainable sanitation technology.” Perhaps your future energy-efficient home will be able to connect the toilet directly to the furnace.
Last November, Tech Insider dredged up and tweeted video related to a story first reported in 2015 about Antarctica's Gentoo penguins getting together to relieve themselves en masse. Their warm guano helps to melt the snow and ice. Having thus cleared the field, the birds can build nests on beaches or small patches of vegetation.
In the same month the news site Crosscut ran a piece about the University of Washington's Conservation Canines program. Reporter Hannah Weinberger wrote that “a rotating cast of 17 lucky dogs ... [are] taught to approach scent detection as a game, where they are rewarded for learning how to track the scents of dozens of species' feces.”
The samples that the dogs then locate in the field give researchers valuable information about local animal populations—more data than could be generated by camera traps or hair snares. So what's it like to sniff out scat for a living? One dog allegedly described it as “rough.”
Also in November the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health ran a study entitled “Everything Is Awesome: Don't Forget the Lego.” Six pediatric health care professionals swallowed a plastic Lego minifigure head, representing the myriad small objects little kids swallow, and then pawed through their own stool to see how long it took for the head to emerge. The time between ingestion and elimination was dubbed the Found and Retrieved Time (FART), which averaged 1.71 days.
The authors noted that “it is likely that objects would pass faster in a more immature gut.” Therefore, they “advocate that no parent should be expected to search through their child's faeces to prove object retrieval.” In other words, trust the process—these things have a way of working themselves out.