6 Breakthroughs in the Science of Farts

Finally, proof that scientists just sit around and smell their farts all day
6 Breakthroughs in the Science of Farts

The study of science began 2.5 million years ago, when a Homo habilis named Ugg farted and then asked, “Why?” We’ve studied farts ever since. We’ve studied other stuff too, like astronomy, and how to make soy sauce, but we never stopped examining our farts either. And even long after we answered that basic “why” question — answer: it’s because we have little creatures inside us, and they fart a lot — we kept learning more. Such as when...

Scientists Found Farts Were the Biggest Danger of World War II Isolation

During World War II, Britain feared being cut off totally from trading with other countries. When a city gets isolated during a siege, that means mass starvation, and while the collective British Isles were more self-sufficient than any single city, they did still rely on imports for food, particularly meat. If all trade stopped, would the people of Britain go hungry? Would they have to prioritize feeding essential workers, and let other people outright die?

Spotted Dick

Tracy/Wiki Commons

Would they turn to cannibalism, out of desire for spotted dick? 

To test this, Cambridge scientists calculated the diet that the country could conceivably offer every citizen, and eight volunteers lived on this diet for three months. They ate one egg and one pound of meat per week, and half a cup of milk per day. They had to fill the remainder of their stomachs using potatoes and vegetables. They also ate bread, lots of bread, with no butter to spread on it.

Unexpectedly, the diners suffered from no protein or nutrient deficiencies, and they had enough energy to live normal lives and even to exercise strenuously. Their biggest complaint was just how much time they had to devote to eating, since they had to eat so much to make up for the loss in calorie-rich foods, and it brought them no pleasure. Thanks to all those bulky vegetables, they now produced 250 percent more feces than normal. Also thanks to vegetables, they farted much more. The researchers hadn’t foreseen this and had not prepared any way of numerically recording the gas boost, so they just had to note that the increased flatulence was “remarkable.”

In the end, though Britain did ration food during the war, and for years afterward, they never were cut off totally like they’d dreaded. No one ever had to adopt the Cambridge diet, so the gas masks civilians carried proved unnecessary. 

The Hunt to Sample Deeper Farts

Farts reveal the truth about your health. You yourself have no doubt noticed a change in the odor of your flatulence during some intestinal mishap. More specifically, the varying composition of methane, hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide reveals how well your microbiome is functioning. The only problem is, farts only reflect the contents of the final foot or so of your colon. The rest of your intestinal tract is also filled with gases, but your farts don’t reveal their makeup. 

Traditionally, scientists have had a way to sample this untapped gas: by analyzing your breath. Yes, some of the gas in your large intestine gets absorbed into your blood and gets expelled by your lungs. 

Depiction of a person who has Halitosis (or bad breath)

via Wiki Commons

You have chronic fart breath. 

But we’re working on a new method. Swallow a pill with sensors, and it will sample your gases at various points, sending the results to a linked tablet (meaning a tablet computer, not another pill). This pill system could detect early signs of cancer and is hardly the most invasive way of examining the colon. Plus, the ability to broadcast the sampling data gives you a great new bonus to offer your OnlyFans subscribers. 

Experimentally Testing an Anti-Fart Device

The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center has many different medical conditions they can research. In 1998, they turned their attention to the subject of smelly farts. They fed study participants pinto beans to stimulate flatulence and then collected the gas via rectal tubes. Then they sent these various gas samples through a variety of materials. The treated gases went to a panel of judges, who rated each one’s odor on a nine-point scale, ranging from “no odour” to “very offensive.” 

smelling glass

monica di Loxley/Unsplash

“I detect accents of elderberry, as well as a patina of ass.”

The best chemicals for neutralizing fart odor were activated charcoal (a classic odor absorber) and zinc acetate (which reacts with hydrogen sulfide). While you can buy commercial anti-fart underwear today, the scientists judged these to be undesirably bulky and suggested that this study’s findings may lead to improved devices in the future.

Also, while not the goal, the study showed whether judges preferred the smells of men’s farts or women’s. In the blind smell test, the judges uniformly rated women’s farts worse. However, in practice, fart offensiveness is a function of not just gas composition but gas quantity, and men produce gas in higher volumes. 

Even the Sounds of Farts Are Surprisingly Revealing

Thanks to video conferencing, decreasingly few professional encounters require you to go anywhere in person. Doctor visits are an exception. Yes, you can answer questions over the phone and receive a prescription, and your doc can even get a remote look and tell you whether your genitals are as weird as you think, but there are limits. 

However, what if one day soon you could fart into an app and find out what’s wrong with you? We’re not there yet, but Georgia Institute of Technology scientists put together a presentation last year on the possible future of this, a presentation they called “Urination, Defecation, Flatulence and Diarrhea: The Four Seasons of Toilet Acoustics.” To demonstrate how such sounds can indicate diseases, they unveiled an artificial toilet sound generator, which they called the Synthetic Human Acoustic Reproduction Testing machine. 


Gabor Monori/Unsplash

Now read the acronym that that name spells out. 

Besides voluntary consultations, the scientists suggested they could use this process to listen to all toilet activity in public restrooms, to spot the rise of diarrheal diseases. See, this is how it always goes: They get our guard down with some fun poop joke, but then they unveil their true goal of mass toilet surveillance. 

High-Altitude Flatus Expulsion

We’ve been using the word “fart” throughout this article, rather than any clinical alternative. There is no clinical alternative word, as far as we know. “Flatulence” means farting, but there is no simple alternative word for the verb “fart.” The formal term is “expel flatus.”

Knowing that, you should be able to figure out for yourself what high-altitude flatus expulsion (HAFE) is. That’s the phenomenon by which you fart more at high elevations, such as when climbing a mountain. Climbers have their own name for it: the Rocky Mountain barking spiders.


Steve Gale/Unsplash

This is inside your butt right now.

Sufferers can turn to digestive enzymes, or to the common anti-gas medication known as simethicone. If people near you experience HAFE during your climbing expedition, that is why you should always carry supplemental oxygen. 

Does Underwear Shield Us From Fart Germs?

A nurse approached Australian doctor Karl Kruszelnicki with a question: When she farted in the operating room, was she contaminating the environment with germs? Hospital personnel wear masks on their faces but not on their asses, right? Or rather, they do wear multiple layers of cloth over their asses, but this clearly does not block the odor component of farts, so does it block the germs?

underwear clothesline

Andreea Popa/Unsplash

Are these N95 certified?

Kruszelnicki performed an experiment, having a colleague fart on two petri dishes. They farted on one through underwear and trousers; they blasted the other with no anal shielding whatsoever. The filtered flatus sparked no bacterial growth. The second dish, however, soon showed two bacterial colonies that were visible to the naked eye (and which had originated from a naked brown eye). 

So, normal clothing really does trap germs from farts before they can disperse through the air. Though, even the bacteria that did grow in the second dish were not harmful. That means if you’re in the habit of having people fart directly on your face, fear not. No one’s telling you change your ways. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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