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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Lost to science

Today's Guardian has a cautionary tale about a research scientist who had a fascination with the dietary habits of lizards:

For centuries the steaming jungles of the globe and the slithering, scuttling but often unseen creatures that inhabit them have beckoned mysteriously to adventurers, biologists and botanists. But it was not a myth or legend, nor a rare bird or secretive serpent that lured Daniel Bennett to the rainforests of the Philippines. It was lizard poo. Kilos and kilos of it.

After five years spent in hot and difficult pursuit of the rare butaan lizard, cousin to the mighty komodo dragon, the PhD student had managed to collect 35kg (77lb) of its faeces.

Which perhaps explains why he was so furious to return to Leeds University for his third year only to discover that a lab technician had thrown out his sack of samples.

"I was surprised to find my desk space occupied by another student," he said. "My personal effects had been carefully stowed in boxes, but there was no sign of my 35kg bag of lizard shit."

Bennett told the Times Higher Education supplement: "To some people it might have been just a bag of lizard shit, but to me it represented seven years of painstaking work searching the rainforest with a team of reformed poachers to find the faeces of one of the world's largest, rarest and most mysterious lizards."

I know how he feels. When I was a student I returned home only to find that my mother had thrown out my collection of Marvel comics including what by now might be a valuable first edition.
While I suspect there is some tongue-in-cheek with this posting, the Komodo dragon does harbour some of the most dangerous infections in it's mouth, its usual means of hunting pray is to bite and wait for it's victim to die of the infection(s) it catches due to the bite.

The most fascinating bit is the fact that the Komodo Dragon doesn't suffer from these infections, so having a knock on effect for the investigation would be to combat infections like MRSA.

On a lighter note, I have two tortoises (Testudo graeca) that do produce roughly 10 grams of shit per day, if the Researcher would like these - I will forward if required!
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