Ask a Scientist! Grossology Edition

Have a science related question? Ask away! We'll track down an answer from one of our OMSI scientists and post the answers.


Q: How long does it really take to digest gum? My second grade teacher said thirty days. -Savannah

A: It's a lot less than thirty days - more like thirty hours. After you chew the sugar out of gum, if you swallow it the gum passes through your body like any other indigestible fiber. Just like the fiber in lettuce, bread or any other food, gum will pass mostly unchanged through your intestines and come out the other end in one or two days.


 Q: Why is my pee yellow? -Rowan

A: In your blood, blood cells break down into a chemical called bilirubin. Your liver changes this chemical into another one called urobilin. Urobilin is the yellow color you see in your urine. If you drink lots of water, the urobilin is watered down, and your urine turns clear. If your urine is ever red, black or brown, that's very bad, and you should see a doctor right away.


 Q: What is a ringworm? It's not a worm is it? -Memoona

A: Ringworm, also known as tineas, is the result of a fungal infection of the skin. There are three types or genera of fungus that affect skin: Trichophyton (infects hair, skin, or nails), Epidermophyton (infects only the skin and nails), and Microsporum (infects the hair and skin). Ringworm is a type of Microsporum infection. The name ringworm originated with the ancient Greeks. They interpreted the ring like pattern it grows in as being caused by worms. Later, the Romans believed that lice transmitted ringworm. The word tineas is a derived Latin term for worms or insect larvae. Other common forms of ringworm are jock itch (tinea cruris) and athlete’s foot (tinea pedis).


 Q: Why do different animals have differently shaped poop? -Skyler

A: The shape of an animal's poop is determined by its diet, rectal muscles and intestinal system. A high carbohydrate/high fiber diet will result in a loose stool (like horse manure). A diet rich in protein will have compact stools since protein doesn't make much residue to turn into poop. The rectal muscles squeeze the poop so that it separates from the animal's body. This can give the stool a pointed end shape, like in human poop. How fast nutrients move through an intestinal system depends on the animal's metabolism. If the animal is processing small amounts of nutrients on a continual basis, then the stools will most likely be short and compact, like in rodents.




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I heard a couple of guys talking about this in the New York subway so I looked it up online and found your page. Thanks. I thought I was right and you confirmed my thoughts. Thanks for the work you've put into this. I'd love to save this and share with my friends.

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