Pooping. Everyone does it, right? Might as well make it count. Here are some ways that poop made a difference in the world.
10. Poop shows when new members of a species are introduced
Just recently genetic testing on wolf scat in the Isle Royale National Park showed that what had previously thought to be an isolated wolf population had actually benefitted from an immigrant from Canada. The new pooper, known because of his light fur as The Old Gray Guy, had sired over 50 offspring and provided insight into the complicated results of introducing new animals into inbred populations.
9. Mammoth poop eases comet fears
People worry that a comet killed off the mammoth population, and that another comet could do the same to us. Ancient mammoth poop indicates, though, that they were actually killed off by a fungus and bug poop (two poop accomplishments in one), that they ingested along with plants.
8. Ancient poop may kill us
Now-extinct giant animals used to roam the arctic, and their 'organic matter' has been sealed in by permafrost. With modern climate change unearthing that material, a big steaming pile of carbon dioxide and methane may be released into the atmosphere. Let's keep it cold, people.
7. Poop fueled US expansion in the Pacific
In the 1800s, before chemical fertilizers, people used nitrogen-rich guano to help grow crops. Because guano was often to be found in small islands in the Pacific that only birds landed on, and because exporters of guano were driving up the price, the US passed the Guano Islands Act. This allowed private citizens to claim any uninhabited island for the purposes of mining guano. The resulting rush, and the fact that the US could claim land it had no intention of incorporating into the union, solidified US presence in the Pacific.
6. Whale poop saves the oceans.
Whales are not just the gentle giants of the sea, they're also quite possibly the only animals that can regularly poop upwards. Their poop floats, so it goes towards the surface of the ocean and spreads. Sounds disgusting, but it turns out that whale poop provides important nutrition for plankton and other tiny animals that form the base of the ocean ecology.
5. Hyena poop provides the earliest sample of human hair.
Did you know that a carnivore's poop is a wonderful preservative for hair? Did you want to know? The oldest sample of human hair - even though it is completely fossilized, comes from ancient hyena dung. Scientists don't know whether the hyena hunted early humans or just scavenged off dead ones, but the hair is between 200,000 and 250,000 years old.
4. Chinchilla poop lets scientists trace the rainfall of the driest desert on earth.
Often scientists use plant matter or fossilized trees to find out how much rain has fallen over past years. There isn't much plant matter to be found in the Atacama desert. What can be found is in chinchilla 'middens'. Middens are whatever scraps the chinchilla doesn't need anymore, covered in chinchilla poop pellets and glued together with urine. Since the poop and urine pretty much seal the midden, scientists can determine what plants the rodent was feeding on. As part of its sealing process, the poop soaks up moisture from the air. The size of the poop pellets can tell scientists how much it rained that year. And since poop is organic, they can carbon date the middens and reconstruct the climate history of the Atacama.
3. Poop, and dogs' willingness to sniff it, can prevent the spread of avian flu
Dogs have been shown to have noses sensitive enough to sniff out cancer in other animals' bodies. They can fairly easily smell infected feces, and the American Chemical Society announced plans to use the noses of dogs and mice to sniff out feces of imported or wild animals and trace movements of avian flu. Once scientist know how an infected population moves, they can work on preventing contact between that population and other animals - and between the population and humans.
2. Poop lets scientists trace human movements
Human coprolites (fossilized poop) have been found in Arizona, Oregon, have been helpful in tracing where humans have been over the years. Granted, it's hard to distinguish fosslized poop from rock, and fossilized human poop from any other kind of fossilized poop, so the finds are controversial, but let's raise a glass to those celebrated squatters who made their presence known thousands of years later.
1. Poop transplants can save lives!
Doctors are doing something they tactfully call a 'probiotic infusion' on patients with gastrointestinal problems. The gut has important bacteria in it that help people digest food and fight off infection. If those die off due to sickness or continued use of anitbiotics, a person can be in real trouble. Give them some healthy poop through a tube in the nose, and they live on - probably only wishing they were dead once in a while.