Field of Science

TMI Friday: If you lie down with beasts, you get up with diseases

The man arrived at a hospital with severe genital lesions, infection with a disgusting cocktail of different diseases. He said that these lesions started around two months prior to his admittance to the hospital. The question arose as to how he got these lesions.
After some coaxing, the man admitted that he was involved in a few unconventional sexual encounters. Although happily married for 30 years, but the last two months had been rather eventful. I'm going to quote directly from the article.
He had inserted his penis in the cat's mouth and the cat had bitten him causing pain and tenderness. There was no bleeding or ulceration. Subsequently, there was penile injury by a chain-zipper. He subsequently had vaginal intercourse with a bitch 1- 1 / 2 months back which was followed by penile erosions, burning mic­turition and phimosis.
I don't know whether there is anything else I need to say.

  Mittal A., Shennoi S. & Kumar K. (2000). Genital lesions following bestiality , Indian Journal Dermatology Venereology Leprology, (66) 95-96. DOI:

TMI Friday: Quail in fear of fetishes !

The the Japanese quail is a plump and fluffy little creature. Some would say it is adorable, with its round physique and small stature. But this creature hides a dark and dirty secret. It is one of the few animals that can develop a sexual fetish.
Photo of a perfectly normal quail by Ingrid Taylar
The quails deviancy is one of the traits that has made it a target of great interest for scientists studying sexual fetishes.
To give a male quail a specific fetish, the researchers condition them from a young age. Usually, they do this by controlling the adolescent males first interaction with a female. For example, in one experiment, they would expose the males to a sexually receptive female alongside another female that had been artificially adorned with bright orange feathers. Males that were exposed in this way tend to be more likely to copulate with a female with bright orange feathers then males who had not been given this stimulus.
But hold on, it gets even more freaky.
The researchers repeated this experiment once more. This time, they used a slightly different stimulus than before. This time, they conditioned the quails not with a colourfully adorned female quail. This time they used a yellow pound puppy toy. They positioned the toy to mimic the posture of a female quail, and introduced it alongside a sexually receptive female quail. Although the Quails did not wantonly take advantage of the helpless stuffed animal, the researchers found that they were more likely to copulate with a female quail when this stuff toy was present.
Think about that next time your paramour demands that their favourite stuffed toy needs to be present when you "make whoopy" , you may be getting an insight into their earliest sexual experiences. If thay happen to be a quail, that is.

 Domjan M., O'Vary D. & Greene P. (1988). Conditioning of appetitive and consummatory sexual behavior in male Japanese quail., Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 50 (3) 505-519. DOI:

#MicroTwJC: TCA Cycle and Voltammetry

This weeks Microbiology Twitter Journal club focuses on the electrifying bacterium known as Shewanella. This species of bacteria has been found in iron and heavy metal rich sediments, and can respire metal as we would respire oxygen. This paper is all about respiration, and looks at one part of how organisms convert chemicals into energy that they can use. For a rough overview, check this out
For organisms like us, who use oxygen as the main electron acceptor, we can simply transport the oxygen to our mitochondria where respiration is occurring. But for bacteria like Shewanella, that use iron as their electron acceptors, they can't transfer iron into their intracellular compartments as easily, so they have moved a significant part of their electron transport chain to their surfaces. So when they metabolise compounds, they charge their surface. The bacterium's ability to reduce metals have lead to some exploring how it can be used to detoxify heavy metals in the environment, and others exploring how it can be used in a microbial fuel cell.

TMI Friday: Don't have a cow man !

We begin this week's TMI Friday with a crime scene. Let us examine the scene of the crime, and try to work out what happened.
The incident occurred on the outskirts of Rome, Italy. The body of a farmer had been found in his own yard at midnight. A calf was nearby, and more further afield there were five sheep. No doubt, these witnesses could tell a very interesting tale if they could speak.
There were some inconsistencies in the manner in which the farmer was found. The man was found wearing a shirt (that had been hitched up) and boots and nothing else.
The body was taken to Rome for closer examination. The coroner noted that there were a whole set of bruises on the body, and that in particular a there was strange U shaped bruise on the man's chest. Whatever had caused that bruise had managed to shatter the left side of the man's ribcage and lacerated his lungs, leading to death.
When neighbours were asked about the man's personality, most of them remarked that he was shy, and disliked speaking to people. He was however particularly close to his animals, in particular the calf that he had been found next to on that fateful night. He would talk to it as if it were his friend. He used to have a female calf as well, but apparently sold it out of "jealousy".
A picture begins to emerge. Let us re-examine the evidence. A farmer who is unusually close to one of his calves is found naked from the waist down next to that same calf, killed by a bruise inflicted by a hoof shaped object.
We cannot truly say for sure what that farmers intentions were when he took his pants off and approached his favourite calf. We do not know exactly why the calf would so violently kick his owner in response to whatever action the owner was attempting. After all, they were friends, weren't they ?

De Giorgio F., Polacco M., Rossi R., Lodise M. & Rainio J. (2009). Fatal blunt injuries possibly resulting from sexual abuse of a calf, Medicine, Science and the Law, 49 (4) 307-310. DOI:

For this month, we will be looking at some of the more bizarre situations that humans find themselves with animals. If you thought you haven't had Too Much Information already... prepare for things to get bestial.

TMI Friday: Screwed the Pooch

There is a turn of phrase, "Screwing the pooch" which described doing something so catastrophically wrong that the failure is as deserved as it is inevitable.  The case we will be looking at will demonstrate exactly why this turn of phrase is so apt. This one is going to get a lot nastier than last weeks one, so prepare yourself.
So we begin our story in the Emergency Room. Our victim had been brought in by his stepfather, a prize bulldog breeder. The boy claimed an inconveniently sat upon paring knife was the source of his agony. His parents noted that there was blood in the bathroom and on his intact underwear, but no paring knife. Something about this story did not add up. The boy eventually said to them that he had screwed the dog.
They suspected sexual abuse. He had a damaged anus, but nothing else to back up the sexual assault theory.  They checked him, and they checked the scene of the crime. There were some blood splatters on the bathroom floor, but nothing else to suggest a struggle. There was no one else in the house at the time, apart from his parents pair of breeding bulldogs.
Then the doctors realised that when the boy said that he had screwed the pooch, he meant it literally. It was only when the doctors pressed him for more information that the whole picture started to come into focus.
The boy had been bathing one of his parents bulldogs, when idea entered his mind. Something that he claimed he saw someone do in one of those annoying Pop-ups that you inevitably get on perfectly normal websites on the internet. I will quote from the paper on what the boy described happened next :
He [the boy] then elaborated that the bulldog had developed an erection during the bath and that he had removed the dog from the bathtub and turned him onto his back on the floor. Thereafter he had straddled the animal and put the dog’s penis in his anus.
Yes, you read that correctly. The boy straddled the bulldog. But what happened next ? Again, I shall refer you to the paper.
When asked how that had felt, the young man stated ‘‘weird” and then went on to say that he had become ‘‘scared” when the dog ‘‘got locked to me like he does with X”(the female dog). He then said that he ‘‘jumped up and pulled him out” with resultant pain and bleeding.
It should be noted that the specific anatomy of the canine penis means that it only swells up to it's full girth after it has entered the orifice of the owners sexual partner, in order to lock them together. This is why the boys premature termination of copulation may exacerbated the damage, but this venture was never going to have a happy ending anyway.
 The doctors recommended a psychiatric evaluation of the child. History does not record whether the bulldog received counselling

Blevins R.O. (2009). A case of severe anal injury in an adolescent male due to bestial sexual experimentation, Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 16 (7) 403-406. DOI:

 For this month, we will be looking at some of the more bizarre situations that humans find themselves with animals. If you thought you haven't had Too Much Information already... prepare for things to get bestial.

We may lose the most important antibiotics you've never heard about

This is a story about the most important human antibiotic you've never heard of. It is one that has protected us long before Fleming, Domagk and Ehrlich were even born. We may be on the verge of losing it, with disastrous consequences.
 In the last century, we beat back the bacteria that plagued us with an arsenal of antibiotics.  But the bacteria are clawing their way back, evolving new ways to resist antibiotics. As our best antibiotics are rendered useless against infections, we are forced to look at alternatives to these treatments.
Consider Colistin. This antibiotic was found to be produced by a soil bacterium named Bacillus polymyxa in 1949. Colistin is formed from amino acids and kills bacteria by targeting their surface membranes. 
In the years after its discovery, it grew to be used worldwide. But it wasn't to last. 
For antibiotics like penicillin, were often advised to increase the dose beyond the levels deemed necessary to kill of most bacteria, so as to prevent resistance developing. For drugs like penicillin, which only have mild side effects, such overdosing rarely produces any side effects for the patient*. So doctors could prescibe it, and other antibiotics like it in high doses without any fear of it harming their patients.
Colistin was a different kind of beast. An overdose of Colistin could lead to severe kidney damage and neurotoxicity. Thus, the natural tendency to use higher doses of antibiotics that strictly necessary backfired severely when applied to Colistin. As a result of these side effects, Colistin fell out of favour in the 1980's.
Fast forward to the present day. A large number of our most commonly used antibiotics no longer work against multi-drug resistant superbugs. 
Those safety concerns which caused Colistin being pulled out of circulation in the end worked in its favour. Since it had not been used in such a long time, few bacteria had acquired resistance to it. At the turn of the century it became a key weapon in our antibiotic arsenal, the drug of last resort, to be brought out to fight only the hardiest of superbugs. 
However, the situation is always changing, and now bacteria have begun to develop resistance to this drug.
Whilst Colistin resistant bacteria are being found with increasing regularity, the loss of Colistin may not be the most disturbing part of this development. It's the worrisome fact that Colistin resistant bacteria may also be able to fight off the other antibiotic; the antibiotic I alluded to in the introductory paragraph.
It is not just bacteria like Bacillus polymyxa or fungi like Penicillium chrysogenum that can produce antibiotics. We can do it too.
We naturally produce our own antibiotics, which are known as Cationic Antimicrobial Peptides, or CAMPs. You may not have heard about these compounds, but they have protected you and your ancestors since they crawled out of the ocean.  They form an integral part of our Immune system, and are manufactured by a number of important immune cells to combat bacteria. These antibiotics are constructed from amino acids, and target bacterial membranes, just like Colistin.
A recent paper in mBio suggests that the similarity of Colistin to human antimicrobial peptides could potentially have dire consequences.
To test whether this was a possibility, scientists decided to test whether bacteria that were resistant to Colistin were also resistant to human antimicrobials. 
They looked at Acinetobacter Baumannii, a bacterium that is often linked with hospital acquired infections, and one that is also known to develop Colistin resistance. They found a number of these Colistin resistant strains of Acinetobacter and found that many of them had developed some degree of resistance to human antimicrobials. The bacteria that were vulnerable to Colistin were also still vulnerable to human antimicrobials.
But they went further. They took samples of bacteria from afflicted patients from the initial stages of infection, and from the late stages and observed the development of this kind of resistance in real time. 
These results suggest that forcing the evolution of Colistin resistance could also push them to develop resistance to human antimicrobials. Under normal circumstances, the immune system's careful management of our internal bacterial community has prevented this kind of resistance emerging. 
This paper suggests that the extensive use of Colistin may force bacteria into a position where resistance to our innate antibiotics can become much easier for them. Not only will they be resistant to our best treatment, they will have the tools to combat a key part of our immune system, and allow them to cause deadlier diseases.

Napier B.A., Burd E.M., Satola S.W., Cagle S.M., Ray S.M., McGann P., Pohl J., Lesho E.P. & Weiss D.S. (2013). Clinical Use of Colistin Induces Cross-Resistance to Host Antimicrobials in Acinetobacter baumannii, mBio, 4 (3) e00021-13-e00021-13. DOI:

*unless you are allergic to penicillin, in which case any contact with the drug could be dangerous.