WTF Fun Fact 13219 – DNA Sculptures

An artist named Heather Dewey-Hagborg has created DNA sculptures using genetic material from random items discarded by strangers.

How are DNA sculptures created?

Dewey-Hagborg first collects discarded DNA samples. These come from cigarette butts or hair. She then uses the DNA left on the items to generate 3D-printed portraits. In theory, these sculptures should reflect the physical attributes of the person from whom the DNA was taken.

The process starts with extracting the DNA from the sample. She then amplifies specific regions of the genome that are associated with physical characteristics, like hair color or facial structure. The amplified DNA is then sequenced to determine the individual’s genetic information. This information is used to create 3D models of the person’s face. Those models are then 3D printed for her art installations.

The artist bases the final sculptures of the sculpture on genetic information. But it also relies on assumptions about how genes influence physical appearance. So, in some sense, they are speculative. You likely wouldn’t be able to track down a person based on a sculpture.

In an interview in Interalia Magazine (cited below), Dewey-Hagborg explained her process. “I walked around picking up people genetic material and analysing it, making portraits, to show the coming risks of genetic surveillance. That as our DNA is increasingly legible (fast, easy, cheap to sequence) we are facing new cultural consequences.”

As for her goal:

“My goal, if I have one, is to inspire audiences to critically engage with science and technology in their lives. To be aware of structures around them, of things present or soon coming, and to think and talk about them with others; to discuss what should or shouldn’t be.  I hope that my work invites viewers into a visceral encounter with the near future.”

Genetics and art

By using DNA as a medium, Dewey-Hagborg tries to raise questions about the role of genetics in shaping our identities. Her work also has implications for thinking about advances in biotechnology for privacy and individuality.

Dewey-Hagborg has displayed her work at the World Economic Forum. She has also sold work to the Centre Pompidou, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Wellcome Collection, the Exploratorium. She has a Ph.D. in Electronic Arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  WTF fun facts

Source: “A visceral encounter with the near future” — Interalia Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13216 – There’s Enough Iron in the Body to Make a Nail

The average human body contains enough iron to make a 3-inch nail. Well, a healthy body anyway. Some of us probably don’t get enough iron.

Is there really enough iron in the body to make a nail?

Humans require iron for many essential bodily functions. Iron is an essential mineral that helps transport oxygen throughout the body and is found in many foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, and beans. It is also found in food additives and dietary supplements, and is added to infant formula as well.

It’s important to note that iron deficiency is a common problem and can lead to anemia, fatigue, and impaired cognitive functioning. The World Health Organization recommends that people consume 10-20 milligrams of iron per day to maintain optimal health.

The average male body contains approximately 4.5 grams of iron, while the average female body contains approximately 3.5 grams. This means that the total amount of iron found in the human body is enough to make a 3-inch nail. Note: nails generally weigh between 2 to 3 grams.

Of course, no one is going to siphon the iron of your body and smelt it into a nail – hopefully.

What’s the significance of this concept?

Nails are often used as a metaphor for hard work. In that sense, it’s no surprise that the idea of making a 3-inch nail from the iron in the human body is a concept that fascinates people.

Iron can also be used to represent the ability to persevere and overcome difficult challenges. It conjures up images of fortitude and determination, courage, ad the will to succeed. Additionally, iron can also be used as a metaphor for protection. often a symbol of armor or a shield.

The metaphor of making a 3-inch nail from the iron stored in the body also speaks to our strength and resilience of the human body. It emphasizes the importance of how the iron in our bodies is used to help us do hard work.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “There Is Enough of This Metal in the Body To Make a Nail” — Soma Blog

WTF Fun Fact 13207 – The Headless Chicken Monster

Have you heard of the headless chicken monster of the sea? Well, it’s slightly less exciting than it sounds, but we’re going to tell you about it anyway.

What is the headless chicken monster?

The headless chicken monster is actually a type of sea cucumber. And as you may have guessed, “headless chicken monster” isn’t its real name.

The sea cucumber was discovered in the Southern Ocean near East Antarctica in 2017 and made headlines in 2018. It is called the “headless chicken monster” because it has long, feathery appendages that resemble a chicken’s legs. Oh, and it doesn’t have a head. It uses appendages to move along the seafloor and filter feed on plankton. It has a mouth on the underside of its body.

The scientific name of this species is Enypniastes eximia.

Discovering a “monster”

The creature was seen using an underwater camera system. It’s thought to be the first sea cucumber of its kind to be observed in the Southern Ocean and has yet to be fully studied by scientists.

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below):

“While conducting a video survey of the deep, dark waters of the Southern Ocean, Australian researchers recently captured footage of a host of funky creatures that swim about near the sea floor. But the team was particularly surprised when a pink, blob-like animal fluttered into shot, propelled by a little pair of fins. It looked “a bit like a chicken just before you put it in the oven,” Dirk Welsford, the program leader for the Australian Antarctic Division, tells Livia Albeck-Ripka of the New York Times. The researchers had no idea what it was.”

Interestingly, scientists seem to have known about the creature since the 19th century, it’s just rarely sighted. It wasn’t named its own species until the recent footage.

The future of E. eximia

The Southern Ocean is a remote and inhospitable environment, and scientists know very little about the sea creatures that live in this region. The discovery of E. eximia is important because it highlights the diversity of life in the Southern Ocean and the need for further research in this region.

Due to its remote habitat and deep waters where it lives, wildlife officials don’t consider the species endangered. CNN reported that the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) proposed creating three large protected areas along East Antarctica to study the unique marine life there. However, Russia and China have blocked the proposal.  WTF fun facts

Source: “A Rare Sighting of the ‘Headless Chicken Monster of the Sea” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13206 – The Bombardier Beetle

You may have heard of the Bombardier beetle since they have a rather interesting ability. Or as National Geographic (cited below) puts it, “the infamous ability to synthesize and release rapid bursts of stinky, burning-hot liquid from their rear ends.”

Tell me more about the bombardier beetle!

There are actually over 500 species of bombardier beetle (and about 40 in the US alone). These creatures live in many different types of ecosystems. The boiling hot chemicals they can shoot out of their rears as a defense mechanism can reach temperatures up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. And the beetle can shoot the spray multiple times in quick succession. The spray can also produce a loud popping noise as it is released, adding an extra deterrent.

The details are even more fascinating.

In the bombardier beetle, special cells produce hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide which then collect in a reservoir. In order to spray, the beetle has to open a valve controlled by a muscle in order to release the chemicals into a separate “reaction chamber.” This chamber is lined with cells that catalyze the chemical reaction that makes the compounds hazardous to the beetle’s predators.

The catalases and peroxidases lining the chamber also aid in the reaction that generates enough heat to bring the mixture to the boiling point (though some of it becomes vapor). The pressure created by the gases closes the valve and expels the chemicals at high speed. Amazing, right?!

Should I be afraid of this creature?

People don’t need to be afraid of the bombardier beetle. They’re too small to hurt humans (about the size of a fingernail), and they don’t go around indiscriminately spraying. They use that function only as a defense mechanism against predators.

Bombardier beetles usually keep to wooded areas and fields and don’t roam around places with lots of humans. They typically have dark abdomens and reddish legs, antennae, and heads, in case you want to keep an eye out.

How on Earth did this beetle feature evolve?

Funny you should ask. Some creationists like to use the bombardier beetle’s two-chamber system as an example of their theory of irreducible complexity. They insist that since the beetle’s defense mechanism wouldn’t operate without two complex parts, they could not have evolved via small modifications and are therefore a product of “intelligent design.”

Most of the creationist rhetoric masquerading as science gives an incomplete or sloppy description of the beetle’s inner workings.

In fact, a step-by-step evolution of the beetle is pretty straightforward (even if it does seem weird to us). The beetle likely developed its ability to secrete chemicals as a defense mechanism that was released via the epidermis to make it distasteful to predators. While the steps in between are all hypothetical since we didn’t see the creature evolve, the development of the beetle we know now is easily broken down into tiny evolutionary steps we’ve seen in other species.

You’ve got to wonder why a creationist would assume God created this beetle specifically to shoot chemicals out its rear end.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Bombardier beetles” — National Geographic

WTF Fun Fact 13182 – Peppa Pig Episode Banned in Australia

If you’re not a parent of a little one, there’s a good chance you’re not familiar with Peppa Pig. The animated show is British, aimed at preschool-aged children. It follows the adventures of a female pig and her family. Riveting stuff. But it actually does get interesting if you know that there was a Peppa Pig episode banned in Australia!

Why was a Peppa Pig episode banned in Australia?

The episode of Peppa Pig called “Mister Skinny Legs” came out in its first season, in 2004. This particular episode indicated that spiders are friendly and there’s no reason to fear them. It’s a good reminder not to be afraid of things just because they exist as “scary” in the public imagination. In fact, the episode points out that most spiders and small and can’t hurt you.

When a spider enters Peppa Pig’s room, her dad explains that there’s nothing to be afraid of and lets the little piglet pick it up and tuck it into bed with her.

This simply did not fly in Australia. You know, the place where spiders are not all small and can be very harmful.

The Guardian (cited below) revealed:

“This advice from the British-produced show was deemed to be ‘inappropriate for Australian audiences’ and the ABC banned it from future broadcast. The episode had not been broadcast on TV because of its unsuitability, but was ‘accidentally published online due to a technical problem,’ the ABC said at the time.”

They also mentioned that “Data released in January revealed 12,600 people were admitted to hospital for spider bites between 2000 and 2013.”

The second banning of Peppa Pig

When the episode aired on Nick Jr years later, parents wrote in with complaints. Nick Jr pulled the episode from the air again.

The episode is a mere 5 minutes long, but parents felt it posed enough of a danger that they didn’t want their kids encouraged to see spiders as their “friends.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Peppa Pig ‘spiders can’t hurt you’ episode pulled off air in Australia – again” — The Guardian

WTF Fun Fact 13178 – The FBI and “Louie Louie”

Did you know there’s a connection between the FBI and the song “Louie Louie”? The FBI launched a criminal investigation into the Kingsmen’s song back in the mid-1960s to determine whether the lyrics were obscene. In fact, that investigation lasted two years!

The strange story of the FBI and “Louie Louie”

A letter from a concerned parent in 1964 asking to “stamp out this menace” of obscenity in music is one of many interesting pieces of the available-but-redacted FBI document on the song.

Of course, if you listen to the song, you’re likely to not understand any of the lyrics at all. They’re muddled at best and nonsensical even if you can make them out. But like so many musical conspiracy theorists, a handful of people thought they heard pornographic lyrics if they slowed the record down. The lyrics the complainants came up with said a lot more about the complainers than the artists!

For the record, here are the actual lyrics to “Louie Louie”:

Louie, Louie,
me gotta go.
Louie, Louie,
me gotta go
.

A fine little girl, she wait for me;
me catch a ship across the sea.
I sailed the ship all alone;
I never think I’ll make it home

Three nights and days we sailed the sea;
me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there;
I smell the rose, in her hair.

Louie, Louie,
me gotta go.
Louie, Louie,
me gotta go
.

A fine little girl, she wait for me;
me catch a ship across the sea.
I sailed the ship all alone;
I never think I’ll make it home

Three nights and days we sailed the sea;
me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there;
I smell the rose, in her hair.

Nothing obscene there!

Closing the investigation

The FBI never contacted singer Jack Ely during the two years of the FBI investigation. In fact, they closed the case saying: “, the man who sang the words of the song in the first place. At the end of the two years, the FBI didn’t even exonerate “Louie Louie,” they simply said that “the lyrics of the song on this record was not definitely determined by this Laboratory examination, it was not possible to determine whether this recording is obscene.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “The FBI Investigated the Song ‘Louie Louie’ for Two Years” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13171 – Patricia Highsmith’s Snails

Patricia Highsmith was the author of psychological thrillers centered on the duplicity and morality of their main characters. In modern times, her best-known novel is The Talented Mr. Ripley. And while there are many interesting facets of her life one may want to know about, today we’re looking at Patricia Highsmith’s snails and their enduring legacy as a “fun fact” about her.

What’s the story about Patricia Highsmith’s snails?

Highsmith was a complex person and journaled extensively about the highs and lows of her emotions as well as the questioning of gender and sexuality. She was also highly enamored with snails. Highsmith kept them as pets because of their ability to be self-sufficient as well as their lack of sexual dimorphism (any difference between males and females).

She refused to take on any stereotypical female gender role. For example, since women were tied to the home at the height of her career in the 1940s and 50s, she took up traveling.

Highsmith died in 1995, and in 2021 no less than three biographies came out about her life. All of them recount her love of snails and the story of her taking 100 of her pet snails to a cocktail party in Suffolk, England. They were stashed in her handbag, much to the delight of guests. Also shoved inside her bag was a large head of lettuce for them to chew on. It must have been a large bag!

As the New York Times Style magazine T recounts, her love of snails started in the 1940s:

“In 1946, while walking past a New York City fish market, Highsmith spotted two snails locked in a loving embrace. Intrigued, she took them home, placed them in a fishbowl and watched their wriggling copulation, spellbound. As was typical of Highsmith, she was riveted by what others found repulsive or nauseating. ‘They give me a sort of tranquility,’ she said of the gastropods. ‘It is quite impossible to tell which is the male and which is the female, because their behavior and appearance are exactly the same,’ she wrote elsewhere.”

Stowaway snails

Highsmith wanted to make it big in America, but never quite broke through during her lifetime, even though Alfred Hitchcock adapted her novel Strangers on a Train for the screen. She spent most of her career in Europe.

When moving from England to France, Highsmith insisted on bringing her pet snails along (at one point she had 300). But the law prohibited her from bringing them into the country. As a result, she stowed them away by tucking them under her breasts. As the story goes, she could get around 10 under each.

In 1947, she began including snails in her writing. In a short story titled “The Snail-Watcher,” “a snail enthusiast named Peter Knoppert finds his study has been overwhelmed by the creatures due to their copious breeding, and he is grimly smothered and consumed by them.”

Highsmith’s agent refused to show it to editors because the main character chokes on a snail in a graphic way that he deemed “too repellant.” But her friends got a kick out of it.

There’s no telling what influenced her love of snails or her desire to bring them wherever she went. But it does make a good cocktail party story.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Many Faces of Patricia Highsmith” — T – The New York Times Style Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13163 – The Goodyear Blimp Redondo Beach Connection

In 1983, the city of Redondo Beach, CA adopted a resolution “recognizing the Goodyear Airship Columbia (aka Goodyear blimp) as the “Official Bird of Redondo Beach.”

What’s the Goodyear blimp Redondo Beach connection?

To many, the Goodyear blimp is simply a novelty or publicity stunt. But some people in southern California have more of a connection to the airships. In fact, the Goodyear ships have even received “get well” cards after they’ve been in accidents.

But nothing tops Redondo Beach’s connection with the Goodyear blimp, or more specifically, the fleet ship known as the Columbia. That’s the official bird of the city.

Rather than act as a simple billboard (after all, we don’t know how many tired the blimp has convinced people to buy), the airships become sights for sore eyes. Even neighborhood mascots. There’s a sense of fun and familiarity when you catch sight of one.

To be fair, it is cool and pretty rare to see a blimp. We’ve just never thought about making one our official “bird.”

The blimps were once used to escort military flights across the Atlantic. Now they’re largely used for aerial shots in live televised events. You can even take a ride in the blimp – and over 1 million people have!

The Goodyear Columbia (later “Eagle”)

In 1984, the Olympics were held in Los Angeles, California. Nearby cities, such as Redondo Beach, would be featured during the games, but wanted a way to stand out. Enter the aerial shots provided by the blimp.

The Goodyear blimps have always provided free video shots in exchange for their own publicity during the events (just count how many times it’s mentioned during the Superbowl). Since Redondo Beach didn’t have any control over how many times the blimp got mentioned in return for aerial footage, they went so far as to honor the specific ship taking footage, the Columbia, by declaring it the city’s official bird a year prior to the event.

Of course, the move made headlines across the nation.

In the early 1990s, the Goodyear Columbia had its name changed to the Eagle and given a new paint job.

 WTF fun facts

Source: Redondo Beach Meeting Minutes

WTF Fun Fact 13160 – The Niels Bohr Beer Supply

After winning the Nobel Prize, Danish physicist Niels Bohr received a lifetime supply of kegs, bottles, and crates of beer from Carlsberg Brewery from 1932 until his death in 1962.

Niels Bohr Beer Supply (and the myth of the pipes)

You may have actually heard something about Niels Bohr’s beer prize. But that’s likely because you’ve heard an oft-repeated myth that the beer company had the beer piped right into his house.

For some reason, enough of us don’t know enough about pipes to realize that such a story would be both gross and impossible. But it’s ok – most of us aren’t plumbers.

So, first, let’s do away with the myth that Bohr had some magic beer sink or tap right inside his home. That would be cool, but it’s not true.

Instead, the physicist (who worked on the Manhattan Project) was gifted the beer in the form of bottles and kegs. We’re guessing he was also treated to a pint wherever he went. People were pretty excited about his Nobel Prize. And at the time they were both horrified and grateful for the Manhattan Project’s development of the atomic bomb.

Beer prize

Dr. Christian Joas, the director of the Niels Bohr Archives confirmed that “…it is true that Niels Bohr received a life annuity from Carlsberg Brewery in the form of kegs, bottles and crates of beer, which were delivered to him from 1932 until his death in 1962.”

The blog Beerena (cited below) has a great account of the myth and the real story.

They note that “the origin of the story of the beer pipeline at Bohr’s house” is likely due in part to chemistry professor and YouTuber Martyn Poliakoff (of the Periodic Videos channel).

“In 2011, he published a video in which he discusses the origin of the element bohrium, named after Niels Bohr, and mentions the urban legend of beer. When asked where he got it from, he replied that he believed he had read it in Richard Rhodes ’book Creating an Atomic Bomb.”

Trust us, there’s no such story in the book. But the book is long and full of detail, so we can see why he might assume the anecdote originated there. Sadly, that leaves us without the origin of the story. But it hardly matters – these types of things often spiral out of control. It’s interesting enough that Bohr had a beer connection to Carlsberg, we don’t really need to believe he had an underground beer pipe installed in his home.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Myth of Niels Bohr’s Beer Pipeline” — Beerena