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Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty Images
Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty Images

How a London Museum Is Preserving a Chunk of the 143-Ton Whitechapel Fatberg

Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty Images
Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty Images

When UK officials learned of the 143-ton Whitechapel fatberg mucking up London’s sewer system, their first concern was getting rid of it. Now, the curators at the Museum of London are figuring out how to best preserve a chunk of the monstrous trash mass so as many visitors as possible can see it.

As WIRED UK reports, the museum's exhibition, titled "Fatberg!", launches on Friday, February 9. It features a congealed mound of fat, hair, diapers, wet wipes, sanitary napkins, and condoms that was salvaged from the Whitechapel fatberg shortly after it was discovered beneath the streets of London in September 2017. According to the exhibition’s curator, Vyki Sparkes, no one has ever tried preserving a fatberg before.

The garbage globs, which form from grease and oil poured down sink drains, attract debris ranging in size from candy wrappers to planks of wood. Just a small piece of one can provide a fascinating glimpse at the waste that ends up in city sewers, but displaying a fatberg for the public to view poses logistical challenges.

In this case, the fatberg piece was set out to dry for seven weeks before it was transported to the Museum of London. The resulting item has the consistency of "parmesan crossed with moon rock," according to CBC News, and is roughly the size of a shoebox. Outside of the moist environment of London’s underbelly, the solid chunk may continue to dry out and crumble into pieces. Mold growth and sewer fly infestations are also potential issues as long as it's left out in the open.

The museum curators initially considered pickling the fatberg in formaldehyde to solve the aging problem. This idea was ultimately nixed as the liquid would have likely dissolved the whole lump into loose sludge. Freezing was another possibility, but the museum was unable to get a hold of the specialist freezers necessary for that to happen in time.

In the end, the curators decided to display it as-is within three layers of boxes. The clear cases are meant to spare guests from the noxious odor that Sparkes described to CBC News as a weeks-old diaper smell that’s simmered into something more like a “damp Victorian basement.” The exhibition closes July 1, at which point the museum must decide if the fatberg, if it remains intact, should become a permanent part of their collection. And if the mass doesn’t end up surviving the five-month show, obtaining another one to sample shouldn’t be too difficult.

[h/t WIRED UK]

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The Surprising Place Where You're Likely to Encounter Germs at the Airport
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From obsessing over recycled cabin air to worrying about potentially contaminated coffee or tea, flying isn't fun for germophobes. Now, Lonely Planet reports that travelers who opt for self check-in should consider breaking out the hand sanitizer before they even hit security.

In late 2017, the team at website insuranceQuotes checked out three major U.S. airports, as well as the planes used on several flights, to gauge which areas were the most germ-filled. They conducted 18 swab tests across six surfaces (including airport water fountains and plane armrests), then used lab analysis to measure the average number of colony-forming units (CFU), a standard measurement for the number of viable bacteria and fungal cells per square inch of a surface area.

Self check-in kiosks were the germiest surface, according to lab findings. The average kiosk screen contained 253,857 CFU, with one kiosk recording over 1 million CFU. Bathroom flush buttons were, surprisingly, quite a bit cleaner (although not that clean), with an average of 95,145 CFU. Other particularly germy spots included the bench armrests at airline gates (21,630 CFU on average), water fountain buttons (19,181 CFU on average) and airplane tray tables (11,595 CFU on average).

To put their results in perspective, insuranceQuotes provided the average CFUs for household objects and appliances like kitchen sinks (21,000 CFU), bathroom doorknobs (203 CFU), and toilet seats (172 CFU). For the most part, these levels were far lower than the ones found in airports and on planes, as you might expect when comparing public spaces to private homes.

But this report shouldn't plunge travelers into full-on Howard Hughes mode. For one thing, the tests were performed by an insurance company, not a team of trained scientists. And at the end of the day, not all germs are actually bad for you. As humans, we have trillions of microbes living both on us and inside of us. Some of these microbes are beneficial, and can even kill disease-causing bacteria. Exposure to some bacteria can even strengthen our immune systems.

Still worried? While flying, just remember to be careful where you put your hands, stash a travel-sized bottle of Purell in your carry-on, and follow other preventative tips for avoiding germs in transit.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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