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News Article | April 29, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

The ancient Chinese practiced copromancy, the diagnosis of health based on the shape, size and texture of feces. So did the Egyptians, the Greeks and nearly every ancient culture. Even today, your doctor may ask when you last had a bowel movement and to describe it in exquisite detail. Sure, it's uncomfortable to talk about. But that's where science comes in, because what we don't like to discuss can still cause harm. Irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal infections and other poop-related ailments cost Americans billions of dollars annually. But trying to stem these problems was not our main motivation for trying to figure out some of the physics of defecation. It was something else, much more sinister. From personal observation, into the lab When parenthood hits, it hits hard. One of us is a working dad who survived by learning a new set of skills, one of which was fecal analysis. Years of diaper changes and then potty training turned me from a poo-analysis novice to a wizened connoisseur. My life passes by in a series of images: hard feces pellets like peas to long feces like a smooth snake to a puddle of brown water. Unlike the ancients, we didn't believe that we could predict the future from children's stool. But we did think it was worth trying to understand where all these shapes come from. Having a laboratory to answer questions about the everyday world is one of the distinct pleasures of being a scientist. As fluid dynamicists, we joined forces with colorectal surgeon Daniel Chu, and two stalwart undergraduates, Candice Kaminski and Morgan LaMarca, who filmed defecation and hand-picked feces from 34 mammalian species at Zoo Atlanta in order to measure their density and viscosity. Raw footage of an elephant at the Atlanta Zoo. We learned that most elephants and other herbivores create "floaters" while most tigers and other carnivores create "sinkers." Inadvertently, we also ranked feces from most to least smelly, starting with tiger and rhino and going all the way to panda. The zoo's variety of animals provided us with a range of fecal sizes and shapes that served as independent pieces of evidence to validate our mathematical model of the duration of defecation. We also placed the feces in a device called a "rheometer," a precision blender that can measure the properties of liquid-like and solid-like materials such as chocolate and shampoo. Our lab shares two rheometers with Georgia Tech physicist Alberto Fernandez-Nieves. We have since categorized the rheometers as the "clean rheometer" and the "David Hu rheometer," which has seen its fair share of frog saliva, mucus, and feces. The secret to the speed What else did we learn? Bigger animals have longer feces. And bigger animals also defecate at higher speed. For instance, an elephant defecates at a speed of six centimeters per second, nearly six times as fast as a dog. The speed of defecation for humans is in between: two centimeters per second. Together, this meant that defecation duration is constant across many animal species – around 12 seconds (plus or minus 7 seconds) – even though the volume varies greatly. Assuming a bell curve distribution, 66 percent of animals take between 5 and 19 seconds to defecate. It's a surprisingly small range, given that elephant feces have a volume of 20 liters, nearly a thousand times more than a dog's, at 10 milliliters. How can big animals defecate at such high speed? The answer, we found, was in the properties of an ultra-thin layer of mucus lining the walls of the large intestine. The mucus layer is as thin as human hair, so thin that we could measure it only by weighing feces as the mucus evaporated. Despite being thin, the mucus is very slippery, more than 100 times less viscous than feces. During defecation, feces moves like a solid plug. Therefore, in ideal conditions, the combined length and diameter of feces is simply determined by the shape of one's rectum and large intestine. One of the big findings of our study was that feces extend halfway up the length of the colon from the rectum. Putting the length of feces together with the properties of mucus, we now have a cohesive physics story for how defecation happens. Bigger animals have longer feces, but also thicker mucus, enabling them to achieve high speeds with the same pressure. Without this mucus layer, defecation might not be possible. Alterations in mucus can contribute to several ailments, including chronic constipation and even infections by bacteria such as C. difficile in the gastrointestinal tract. Beyond simply following our scientific curiosity, our measurements of feces have also had some practical applications. Our defecation data helped us design an adult diaper for astronauts. Astronauts want to stay in space suits for seven days, but are limited by their diapers. Taking advantage of the viscosity of feces, we designed a diaper that segregates the feces away from direct contact with skin. It was a semifinalist in the NASA Space Poop Challenge earlier this year. It just shows that physics and mathematics can be used everywhere, even in your toilet bowl. This post was originally published on The Conversation.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: phys.org

"Frogs of the World" represents the first-ever use of 3D technology to preserve accurate, high-resolution models of some of the most endangered frog species on the planet, say Irschick and members of the interdisciplinary Digital Life team. Many of the 3D models released today were created with a new photogrammetry rig created by UMass Amherst undergraduate Trevor Mayhan called the "Beastcam MACRO," customized for small live animals. It is part of the broader Beastcam technology platform designed for rapidly capturing high-resolution, full-color 3D models of living organisms, Irschick explains. The Digital Life team is using this technology to create accurate, high-resolution models of all life on earth. Tatjana Dzambazova of the 3D design and software firm Autodesk, Inc. and a member of the Digital Life advisory committee, says the 3D models already captured - of frogs, sharks, scorpions, toads, lizards, flowers and invertebrates—can be useful as educational tools in virtual reality or in other computer software, and can be 3D printed to educate children about animal diversity. Also, models can benefit scientists because they represent true-to-life digital replicas of live organisms, enabling a range of new scientific inquiries. "Imagine a comprehensive, true-to-life 3D library of all the existing species in the world available online to anyone. With technology developed by Digital Life and accessible tools such as Autodesk ReMake, technology today can help us understand and appreciate the natural world around us in a new way," she adds. Digital Life's new online 3D frog images include some of the rarest frogs on earth, such as the Panamanian golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, as well as more common species such as the horned frog Ceratophrys. They were scanned in the field in the Philippines by researchers from the University of Oklahoma, as well as at Zoo Atlanta, the Amphibian Foundation and at UMass Amherst. Their photogrammetric process integrates 2D digital photos into 3D models using software such as ReMake. Digital Life director Irschick explains that he and his team hope that making 3D models of living animals will promote conservation, science and research, and public awareness, not only for endangered species but for more common ones that are crucial to ecosystems around the world. "In a race against time, I believe that Digital Life has taken a large step forward in preserving the heritage of these frogs," says photographer Christine Shepard, a member of the Digital Life team. Mark Mandica, executive director of the Amphibian Foundation, a partner on the Frogs of the World project, says the models will provide needed support for the worldwide effort to conserve frog species. The amphibians represent a good test case for the Digital Life's project, he adds. "Aside from frogs facing global population declines, they represent some of the greatest biodiversity the earth has to offer. Frogs are virtually limitless in color and pattern variation, as well as shapes and sizes," he notes. Joseph Mendelson, director of research at Zoo Atlanta, points out that approximately 38 percent of all amphibians face significant threats from development, climate change or the chytrid fungus. Cameron Siler at the University of Oklahoma adds, "In addition to their conservation value, these models show the promise of using 3D technology to digitally preserve specimens for biodiversity and museum-based research." Explore further: New 'digital life' initiative aims to create 3-D models of all living creatures


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: www.sciencemag.org

Europe's largest and best known salamander species, the fire salamander, is falling victim to a deadly fungus, and new research is making scientists more pessimistic about its future. A 2-year study of a population in Belgium, now entirely wiped out, has revealed that these amphibians can't develop immunity to the fungus, as was hoped. To make matters worse, it turns out the fungus creates a hardy spore that can survive in water for months and also stick to birds' feet, offering a way for it to spread rapidly across the continent. Two other kinds of amphibians, both resistant to the disease, also act as carriers for the highly infectious spores. "This is terrible news," says geneticist Matthew Fisher of Imperial College London, who studies the fungus but was not involved in the new research. "This isn't a problem that's going to go away. It's a problem that's going to get worse." The pathogen, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), is a chytrid fungus, a type that lives in damp or wet environments and typically consumes dead organic matter. Bsal infects and eats the skin of salamanders, causing lesions, apathy, loss of appetite, and eventually death. Over the past few decades, a related fungus, B. dendrobatidis (Bd), has struck hard at amphibian populations around the world, particularly in the Americas, Australia, Spain, and Portugal. More than 200 species of frogs and toads are thought to have gone extinct, including many kinds of Costa Rica's striking stream-breeding toads. Bsal was identified in a nature reserve in the Netherlands in 2013 after fire salamanders started dying with ulcers and sores similar to those caused by Bd. Fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) grow up to 35 centimeters long, can live more than 40 years, and hunt insects and other small prey in forest streams. Their bright yellow spots warn predators of poison around their head and back. In the Dutch nature reserve, the population plummeted 99.9%. The fungus is thought to have arrived in Europe via salamanders or newts imported from Asia for the pet trade. Bsal has since been found in Belgium and Germany in both fire salamanders and alpine newts. As soon as Bsal was spotted in Belgium in April 2014, veterinarian An Martel of Ghent University in Merelbeke, Belgium, and her colleagues began visiting every month to track the population. About 90% of the fire salamanders died within 6 months, and after 2 years all were gone. The fieldwork revealed that adult animals were more likely to get infected, which makes sense because they are in closer contact with each other—through fighting for mating and breeding, for example—than are juveniles. But the death of these adults means that the population likely won't recover. There was no immune response detected in any of the sick animals in the lab, suggesting that it will be impossible to develop a vaccine, the team reports today in . "We really wanted to find solutions to mitigate disease, to save the salamanders, but everything turned out bad," Martel says. The team had also hoped that the fungus would become less virulent—as often occurs when a pathogen reaches a new host that lacks any immunity—but that hasn't happened: Fungal spores taken from the last fire salamanders in the Belgian forest, when dripped onto the backs of healthy salamanders in the lab, were just as lethal as those collected early in the outbreak. "When they come in contact with a single spore, they will die." The paper has more bad news. Researchers knew that Bsal makes spores with a tiny tail called a flagellum, which propels them toward amphibians. If spores dry out, they die. Otherwise, they typically survive for a few days before being eaten by protozoa. But Martel's group discovered that Bsal makes a second type of spore that looks much hardier and is rarely eaten by protozoa. "This will make it almost impossible to eradicate the fungus from the environment," says Martel, who adds that the spores can survive in pond water for more than 2 months. Another experiment showed that soil remained infectious for 48 hours after it was walked on by a sick salamander. In a separate lab test, the spores adhered to goose feet, suggesting they could hitchhike long distances on birds. The group also showed that two species that share the same habitat as the fire salamander are likely carriers of the disease. Midwife toads (Alytes obstetricans) could be infected with the fungus and shed spores for a few weeks, but they didn't get sick. A high dose of the fungus killed alpine newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris), but low doses made them infectious for months without killing them. As has happened with Bd in the Americas, Bsal will lurk in these reservoirs of disease even after local populations of fire salamanders vanish. Any fire salamanders that arrive from elsewhere will likely get infected by newts or toads. According to results from previous infection trials, most salamander species in Europe are likely just as vulnerable to Bsal. The fire salamander has a range that extends across Europe, and the fear is that the fungus will reach endangered salamanders. With small populations, these species could more easily be driven extinct, Fisher says. "The assumption is that they are all at risk," he says, and the findings in the new paper "have really upped their risk status." Martel and European colleagues recently started monitoring for Bsal in seven countries. It is possible to cure amphibians in the lab. For animals that can take the heat, like fire salamanders, 10 days at 25°C will kill the fungus. Other species can be cured with a combination of two drugs. But there is no practical solution for animals in the wild, especially when their habitat is contaminated with fungal spores. Herpetologist Jaime Bosch of the National Museum of Natural History in Madrid had a rare success in eliminating a chytrid fungus from the wild. A few years ago, he and colleagues got rid of Bd on the Spanish island of Mallorca by temporarily removing some 2000 tadpoles of the Mallorcan midwife toad (Alytes muletensis) and disinfecting their ponds with powerful chemicals. But this success would be hard to replicate in less isolated locations, he says. "Right now, we are very far away from having any solution." The only hope in the meantime, Bosch and others say, is to slow the spread of the disease by ending the importation of amphibians. The United States, a hot spot of amphibian diversity, has already taken steps in that direction. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the import of 201 species of salamanders on the grounds that they might introduce the fungus. Joe Mendelson, a herpetologist at Zoo Atlanta, says the new research suggests the list should be expanded to include other carriers such as the toad and newt studied in the new paper. "This is a very important piece of work, and it's terrifying," he says. "If Bsal gets loose in the United States," he says, "it's going to be bad."


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: phys.org

Sure, it's uncomfortable to talk about. But that's where science comes in, because what we don't like to discuss can still cause harm. Irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal infections and other poop-related ailments cost Americans billions of dollars annually. But trying to stem these problems was not our main motivation for trying to figure out some of the physics of defecation. It was something else, much more sinister. From personal observation, into the lab When parenthood hits, it hits hard. One of us is a working dad who survived by learning a new set of skills, one of which was fecal analysis. Years of diaper changes and then potty training turned me from a poo-analysis novice to a wizened connoisseur. My life passes by in a series of images: hard feces pellets like peas to long feces like a smooth snake to a puddle of brown water. Unlike the ancients, we didn't believe that we could predict the future from children's stool. But we did think it was worth trying to understand where all these shapes come from. Having a laboratory to answer questions about the everyday world is one of the distinct pleasures of being a scientist. As fluid dynamicists, we joined forces with colorectal surgeon Daniel Chu, and two stalwart undergraduates, Candice Kaminski and Morgan LaMarca, who filmed defecation and hand-picked feces from 34 mammalian species at Zoo Atlanta in order to measure their density and viscosity. We learned that most elephants and other herbivores create "floaters" while most tigers and other carnivores create "sinkers." Inadvertently, we also ranked feces from most to least smelly, starting with tiger and rhino and going all the way to panda. The zoo's variety of animals provided us with a range of fecal sizes and shapes that served as independent pieces of evidence to validate our mathematical model of the duration of defecation. We also placed the feces in a device called a "rheometer," a precision blender that can measure the properties of liquid-like and solid-like materials such as chocolate and shampoo. Our lab shares two rheometers with Georgia Tech physicist Alberto Fernandez-Nieves. We have since categorized the rheometers as the "clean rheometer" and the "David Hu rheometer" – which has seen its fair share of frog saliva, mucus and feces. The secret to the speed What else did we learn? Bigger animals have longer feces. And bigger animals also defecate at higher speed. For instance, an elephant defecates at a speed of six centimeters per second, nearly six times as fast as a dog. The speed of defecation for humans is in between: two centimeters per second. Together, this meant that defecation duration is constant across many animal species – around 12 seconds (plus or minus 7 seconds) – even though the volume varies greatly. Assuming a bell curve distribution, 66 percent of animals take between 5 and 19 seconds to defecate. It's a surprisingly small range, given that elephant feces have a volume of 20 liters, nearly a thousand times more than a dog's, at 10 milliliters. How can big animals defecate at such high speed? The answer, we found, was in the properties of an ultra-thin layer of mucus lining the walls of the large intestine. The mucus layer is as thin as human hair, so thin that we could measure it only by weighing feces as the mucus evaporated. Despite being thin, the mucus is very slippery, more than 100 times less viscous than feces. During defecation, feces moves like a solid plug. Therefore, in ideal conditions, the combined length and diameter of feces is simply determined by the shape of one's rectum and large intestine. One of the big findings of our study was that feces extend halfway up the length of the colon from the rectum. Putting the length of feces together with the properties of mucus, we now have a cohesive physics story for how defecation happens. Bigger animals have longer feces, but also thicker mucus, enabling them to achieve high speeds with the same pressure. Without this mucus layer, defecation might not be possible. Alterations in mucus can contribute to several ailments, including chronic constipation and even infections by bacteria such as C. difficile in the gastrointestinal tract. Beyond simply following our scientific curiosity, our measurements of feces have also had some practical applications. Our defecation data helped us design an adult diaper for astronauts. Astronauts want to stay in space suits for seven days, but are limited by their diapers. Taking advantage of the viscosity of feces, we designed a diaper that segregates the feces away from direct contact with skin. It was a semifinalist in the NASA Space Poop Challenge earlier this year. It just shows that physics and mathematics can be used everywhere, even in your toilet bowl. More information: Patricia J Yang et al. Hydrodynamics of defecation, Soft Matter (2017). DOI: 10.1039/C6SM02795D


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.cnet.com

In an expert example of how to lose a Super Bowl bet, Georgia's Zoo Atlanta trolled New England Patriots fans, and gave the rest of us a good laugh. The zoo had a bet on the big game with Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. Whichever zoo's team lost would have to name a baby animal after the opposing team's quarterback and post a video about it. And not just any baby animal, but a Madagascar hissing cockroach -- no matter which side lost. The zoo introduced little-bitty Brady in an Instagram video posted Monday. Best of all, tiny little Brady is joining a family that shares his name -- the zoo has dubbed the other roaches Mike, Carol, Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan. Cindy and Bobby. (Even though her last name wasn't Brady, we kind of want an Alice, too.) He's so small, about five of him would fit on an adult thumbnail, so he wouldn't fare well against a defensive end like Atlanta's Dwight Freeney. Not everyone loved the idea. "Yea not funny really," Instagram user lfenske wrote of the zoo's video. "Kinda petty." But user noml_noml saw the positive side, considering roaches' reputation for indestructibility. "Fitting Brady would still be playing after the bomb drops. #invincible" It's Complicated: This is dating in the age of apps. Having fun yet? These stories get to the heart of the matter. Batteries Not Included: The CNET team reminds us why tech is cool.


News Article | December 17, 2016
Site: www.csmonitor.com

In this scene from the 2001 film 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,' Professor McGonagall (l.), played by Maggie Smith, places the sorting hat on Harry Potter, played by Daniel Radcliffe. —Harry Potter fans, rejoice! References to British author J.K. Rowling’s famous fantasy series about the boy wizard have once again crept into scientific language, after a team of Indian scientists named a new species of spider after the famous sorting hat. The spider’s discoverers say that the arachnid’s shape immediately put them in mind of the sorting hat. Potterheads will recognize the spider’s scientific name, Eriovixia gryffindori, as a reference to the sorting hat’s original owner and Hogwarts co-founder, Godric Gryffindor. "My colleagues and I are geeks and we all thought, 'Hey this curious little spider looks exactly like the sorting hat.' It was uncannily similar," said scientist Javed Ahmed, according to AFP. "So we made a pact that if this turns out to be a new species we will name it after the sorting hat.” Experts agreed that the tiny spider – only measuring about a quarter of an inch – was definitely a new species, which led to the publication of a new study in the Indian Journal of Arachnology this month. After the announcement of the finding, Potter author J.K. Rowling reached out in congratulations, tweeting: This little arachnid isn’t the first creature to be named after the bestselling series. In 2012, an ant-like wasp species was named Ampulex dementor after the spooky, happiness-draining monsters featured in several Harry Potter books. The name won a popular vote, apparent because the voters agreed that the wasp’s “life-sucking” habits were reminiscent of Rowling’s dementors. Another creature, a 66-million-year-old dinosaur named Dracorex hogwartsia, also took on a Harry Potter name recently. In 2015, The Christian Science Monitor’s Shontee Pant reported on the popularity of pop-culture references in scientific naming practices, part of the scientific community's attempts to appeal to a broader audience. She wrote: With its complex rules and Latin verbiage, the process of naming new species can easily alienate the public from the scientific community, which raises a new research question: How do you make an audience care about a new animal that lacks the charisma of, say, a giant panda?   The results of the study – which constitute the only appearance of the term "soul-sucking" in the world's largest scientific journal – indicate that the voting public responded “very positively” to learning about the nomenclature process.... “Visitors were highly interested and during the event spent a significant amount of time asking for details and listening to explanations,” wrote the authors. Growing numbers of scientists, museums, and nonprofits are reaching out to the greater community for inspiration (and cash) as they name their discoveries. Early this year, for instance, scientists named another new variety of spider for singer Johnny Cash. Aphonopelma johnnycashi was discovered near California’s Folsom Prison, the subject of one of Mr. Cash’s most famous songs. Pop culture icons as diverse as Beyoncé, Spongebob Squarepants, and Stephen Colbert have all become the namesakes of newly discovered creatures. In the modern world, crowdsourcing isn’t limited to fundraising for natural disaster relief or college funds. For a small fee, many scientific institutions and nonprofits will allow you to name your own species. For example, the Scripps Oceanic Institute allows donors to name newly discovered maritime creatures for a donation of at least $5,000 per species. In 2008, the Monitor’s Randy Dotinga reported that members of the general public were given the chance to name rare hydrothermal vent worms for a donation of $50,000. Naming rights for other creatures, including a sea slug, went for the comparatively meager $15,000 per species. Proponents of selling naming rights say that it supports research and discovery. A German group called Biopat has raised approximately half a million dollars for scientific research through auctioning off the opportunity to name newly discovered creatures. Despite its growing popularity, some critics remain staunchly opposed to auctioning off naming rights. “There are concerns that profiteering is inappropriate,” says Joe Mendelson, curator of herpetology at Zoo Atlanta. “There are people out in the taxonomy community who say as soon as there’s money involved, 'This is flat-out wrong.' ”


News Article | November 14, 2016
Site: www.prnewswire.com

ATLANTA, Nov. 14, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- As part of Georgia Natural Gas' commitment to community outreach, the company will present Zoo Atlanta with $500,000 in support of Zoo Atlanta's Grand New View capital campaign. The donation will support Zoo Atlanta's revitalization of the historic...


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 22.75K | Year: 2011

This award provides funds for a workshop in Atlanta, GA, from November 18 to 2, 2011, with the goal of bringing together U.S. and Brazilian scientists to establish international research collaborations that will advance biodiversity science. The research projects that are likely to come from this workshop will enhance international collaboration and provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to have an international research experience.


News Article | December 20, 2016
Site: www.prweb.com

With less than 2,000 giant pandas living in the wild, and 422 in captivity, the birth of panda cubs are rare, celebrated events across the world. Earlier this year, Zoo Atlanta welcomed two female giant panda cubs, Ya Lun and Xi Lun, named at their 100-day celebration on Monday, Dec. 12. To support the cubs’ post-natal care, Draeger donated two state-of-the-art incubators to house them during the sensitive, high-risk days and weeks following birth. Designed for neonates, Draeger’s incubators can also be used for animals – especially in cases when humidity is crucial for survival. For giant pandas, the days immediately post-birth pose many risks, but Zoo Atlanta utilized Draeger’s incubators to consistently maintain 35°C and 80 percent humidity for the cubs. Today, the twins are healthy and, following an ancient Chinese tradition, the zoo announced their names at the recent 100-day celebration. “The team at Draeger has been following the progress of Ya Lun and Xi Lun, and we’re thrilled they’re thriving,” said Merouane Djerbal, Director of Marketing, Draeger. “When we heard that Zoo Atlanta needed incubators that could reach higher temperatures and offer humidity options to ensure the cubs’ wellness, we knew our products would fit those needs. While the incubators are designed for neonates, they provide the temperature, humidity, oxygen, light and sound levels needed to support positive outcomes for these pandas.” Draeger’s incubators provide stable, thermo-neutral zone support for premature and low-birth-weight infants. By offering a microenvironment that is the closest to ideal as possible, the incubators support better outcomes – both in the short- and long-term. To learn more about Draeger’s incubators, visit http://www.draeger.com. Draeger. Technology for Life® Draeger is an international leader in the fields of medical and safety technology. Our products protect, support and save lives. Founded in 1889, Draeger generated revenues of around EUR 2.6 billion in 2015. The Draeger Group is currently present in more than 190 countries and has more than 13,000 employees worldwide. Please visit http://www.draeger.com for more information.


News Article | August 24, 2016
Site: www.reuters.com

ATLANTA (Reuters) - The mother of the only giant panda twins in the United States may soon deliver a second set of twins, Zoo Atlanta said on Tuesday, capping off an eventful month for lovers of the fluffy black and white bears across the globe.

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