“That Doo-Doo That You Do”

Posted on July 15, 2013

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Excrement: It’s smelly, messy, and generally a bit of a burden. So is crude oil, but we don’t consider that a burden (except when it’s spilled on large bodies of life-sustaining water). It’s safe to say crap always gets a bad rap, but what if it could do something about those oily ocean disasters? When is the last time you considered the value of animal feces? Too long ago, if ever.

On Eureka, bat poo, a.k.a. guano, caused a massive meltdown. In everyday life, Number 2 does good things for the world. Idea Lab proudly presents some crap to contemplate during your next, shall we say, porcelain meditation.

Guano

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Guano: not just a cool word anymore; it’s worth its weight in oil. In the attempt to use algae to clean up crude oil from water, researchers realized guano provided the nitrogen component required to biodegrade the oil. Not bad!

Eureka’s combination of guano and xylene sent Carter into what he called “poison vats and superacid.” Xylene shouldn’t be confused with Xanthin, though, because this crystalline nitrogenous body is actually an ingredient of bat dookie. Xylene, on the other hand, is most commonly known as a slick industrial solvent.

Fertilizer

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From the butt of a llama, a civilization. Fossilized evidence shows the Inca people in what is now Peru were able to cultivate maize on the complicated Machu Picchu landscape because they used fertilizers. The domesticated llamas, a long time companion of the Incas, were the source of the donor material. Photo JD Berger

Methane Fuel

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That smelly by-product is the unneeded components of an animal’s fuel requirement. And we mean by-product. It has potential that reaches far beyond the barn. Indigestible waste has proven useful in generating power from the methane gas produced as the bacteria process the waste. Manure is capable of being recycled for its methane, then reused as fertilizer for crop growth. Humans can participate in this effort, too! In 2005 a Rwandan prison generated enough methane from its 120,000 prisoners’ recycled waste to reduce its reliance on wood fuel by 60 percent. Other countries, such as Sweden and Nepal, are also supplementing their utility use with biogas. Biogas has the potential to eliminate Earth’s human waste management issue, and as a further by-product it can provide odorless fertilizer for agriculture.

Medicine

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If you have a weak stomach, and you think you’ve heard enough, then skip this section, poo-ficionado. The road gets a little rocky as we venture into the world of medical mavericks. Doctors in the past have tried with little success, but it was enough success for modern doctors to try again. (Last warning – Avert thine eyes, lest ye read of the fecal transplant). That’s right, a poop exchange. Yes. Yes, it’s all those things you’re thinking of. Yes, $#%^@%$&!

The large and small of it is that your waste tells a story in the bacteria that leave your system. What you lack can be reinstated into your intestinal tract from a human donor’s feces. The end result is a healthy gut and maybe some relief for MS and Parkinson’s sufferers. The door to fecal transfusions only just opened, and the field is still being explored. While the science is promising, it is met with some unsurprising skepticism. The story of this procedure was no easy story to send your way, IdeaLabber. But as much as you hate the thought of it, you have to respect the poo. Okay? So can we stop talking about it now? —Lans Nelson

Note: Were you expecting us to cover that amazing story about making poop burgers in Japan, like Fox News did? We hear it’s a hoax, one that’s been circulating occasionally from the early 1990s to the present.

Kiped from the archives of the SyFy channel’s IdeaLab Blog for the TV show Eureka. Well kinda kiped, since I wrote it to begin with. Edited by Tiffany Lee Brown, without whom I’d be stuck in the land of curly quotes.

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Posted in: science, writing