Any Readers in Medford, MA?

I came across this article on IFLScience a few months ago, and I’m still bitter that I don’t live anywhere near Medford, MA.

Infections of C. difficile result in severe diarrhea, hospitalizing 250,000 Americans each year and causing about 14,000 deaths. It can actually come about after using antibiotics for too long, which ties into what makes it exceptionally difficult to treat. The patient’s gut microbiota is nearly wiped out, and conventional probiotics are not sufficient to replace them. 

A new method [of treatment] uses capsules of frozen fecal matter, which thaw out in the body and release the contents in the small intestines. The success rates of the capsules is comparable to traditional treatments, around 90 percent. 

These frozen fecal capsules are OpenBiome’s wheelhouse, as they collect and screen stool samples, and turn them into the ready-to-administer treatments for hospitals. Of course, the feces needs to be sourced from somewhere. OpenBiome pays donors who are committed to providing multiple samples per week.

The going rate is $40 per donation, with a $50 kicker for those who come five days a week. This translates into $250 per week, or $13,000 per year. OpenBiome tries to make the experience as fun as they can by offering prizes to donors who make the most donations, provide the biggest sample, etc.


So basically you can make almost a second salary per year, save lives, by just doing what you do every day anyway. I’ve never heard of anything as downside-free as this.

Well, since I can’t do it, let the Medfordians know! It’s basically free money, and you get to feel good about yourself.



This Week In Zoology: Portuguese Man o’ War

I work in a lab which is filled with people with a Neuroscience and/or Molecular Biology background. I, however, arrived late to this party, having majored in Zoology in college. While I had to do some hard studying during my PhD to catch up, it also puts me in the position of remembering odd and sometimes fun facts about animals that my colleagues are baffled by. When these moments come up I call them “this week in Zoology”, followed by a brief explanation about the animal in question. One of the first of these involved the Portuguese man o’ war, one of the most famous Hydrozoa on the planet for it’s terrible sting.


image from the Metropolitan Oceanic Institute and Aquarium

I called it a Hydrozoa, not because I want to sound smart and impressive, but because the Portuguese man o’ war is, in fact, not a jellyfish. In fact, it is not even technically a single animal.

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Test Your Genes With Coriander

This title makes it sound like I’m about to introduce a silly woo theory I found on the internet, but I actually mean it.

Fresh coriander (or cilantro in the States) is a herb like no other. To my knowledge, there is no bigger controversy surrounding any other edible green leaf. Some people can’t get enough of it, others viscerally hate it. There is even a website called

Of course it is normal for people to like or dislike different foods. However, when it comes to coriander, this disagreement becomes extreme. I am in the coriander hater camp, and I can tell you that it’s not just a matter of disliking it. Fresh coriander, to me, tastes toxic. It tastes like chemicals, like dish soap, like the kind of thing that your body automatically refuses as something that is not edible, that might make you very very sick. Because of this, I never understood how people could love it, to the point of eating a coriander salad. To me that would be like eating a stick of lipstick, or drinking the dirty soapy dishwater in my sink. It’s no longer a matter of like or dislike, it’s a matter of bodily refusal. I am not alone in this, and it is this controversy that finally sparked scientific scrutiny.

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The Nocebo Effect – How Science Should Work

The placebo effect is something that many people, even those who do not work in a context of clinical trials, have heard of and understand. It is the principle that, if a person thinks they are receiving treatment for a specific ailment, they can feel better, even if the treatment they are getting is not doing anything to ameliorate what ails them. This is the reason why clinical trials need to be randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled, in order to determine whether or not the treatment being tested is actually doing something to help the patients. It is also the point in which homeopathy and prayer fail the test, but I digress.

The opposite of the placebo effect, on the other hand, is one that is not as commonly know, talked about or controlled for in scientific studies. It is called the nocebo effect, and it happens quite as often and can lead to similarly false results.

Due to it’s relative lack of fame, the nocebo effect is sometimes overlooked in scientific studies, and has thus led to certain faulty conclusions being published. That does not mean that the mistake cannot be corrected. In an excellent example of how science should work, the same people who “discovered” non-celiac gluten insensitivity have now shown that it does not actually exist.

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A Fun Way To Learn About Vestigial Characteristics

Recently, PZ seems to have gotten into a bit on an online kerfuffle with a creationist who, among other things, does not seem to understand what a vestigial characteristic is. Well he’s in luck, even if he doesn’t want to read articles or books about evolution. Vox has kindly put together an excellent video giving examples of vestigial characteristics you can find in your own body.

I seem to be full of these vestiges of my evolutionary past. I have a palmaris longus and I can wiggle my left ear (though not my right) very well.

Evolution is fun

I Now Know Why This Is Harmful

I was first introduced to the fact that some see evolution as controversial when I was in high school. There was a Jehovah’s Witness somewhere in the school, and her* parents complained that they did not want their daughter learning about evolution, as it was contrary to their beliefs. The school informed them that, most unfortunately, evolution was a core part of the curriculum, and that she was just going to have to learn about it if she wanted to take biology. However, they would be sensitive to their beliefs, and mention “the controversy” in class.

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Hey PZ, You Missed One!

I have been reading Pharyngula for many years before joining FtB. Recently, PZ published excerpts from a couple of papers, which caused me to both laugh and groan at the evident laziness of the reviewers. In one case, a review in Cell seemed unaware that flies are, in fact, animals. In a paper published in PLoS One (and later retracted), the authors concluded that the hand is perfectly designed by a Creator. In both cases I found myself asking, doesn’t anyone proofread these before sending them out? Even so, don’t the reviewers actually read through the bloody paper before publishing them?! It certainly seems as though they pick through them with a fine-toothed comb whenever I try to get some work published!

The disappointment aside, there is one paper that I do not recall PZ ever mentioning, but I feel that it deserves a shout out all the same. Not because the science is faulty (it seems perfectly fine), nor because of an idiotic conclusion. It deserves a shout out because it is just so, damned funny. It comes from another one of our beloved PloS Journals, PloS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

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Picking Picking Picking…

The bane of my existence.

I mentioned in my introductory post that I am currently working 13-hour days. This is because I am scrambling to finish the last experiments we need in order to publish our paper, and I need to have them done yesterday.

I work with C. elegans, a little nematode which is barely visible with the naked eye. It is convenient, especially for experiments involving aging, because you can keep large numbers quite cheaply, they have a rapid life cycle and normally live for around 20-25 days. Great right?


Given the fact that they don’t live very long, lifespan experiments are commonplace in worm labs, meaning you check to see how long it takes for the worms to die. However, these worms are also hermaphrodites, so they lay eggs even if there are no males around. As I said they have a very rapid life cycle, around 4 days long, which means that after a few days you might confuse your original population of worms with the progeny that they produced in the meantime, and that wont do if you want to know how long it takes for your worms to die. The solution? You have to transfer your adults onto new plates, by hand, every couple of days, to separate them from the larvae. This is commonly known as picking, and everyone hates doing it.

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