Geeky Grossness Gauntlet

Long-time readers may remember my friend Kyrsten’s famous guest post about Bob the bot fly.

Bob in March 2008.

Commenters’ reactions on the original post ranged from mild (“kinda icky”) to ambivalent (“horrible. but very cool” / “utterly revolting, but sort of fascinating” / “this is both disgusting and cool”) to extreme normal (“disgusting and disturbing” / “seriously? ewwwww….”)

Jeanne Sather, author of The Assertive Cancer Patient blog, found the post just this week, and commented as follows:

And I just about pass out when I have to remove a tick, either from my dog or from my own ankle after hiking! You geeks are made of strong stuff.

However, she then went back to her own blog and wrote a post called “A Challenge–Who Can Gross Me Out?”:

My interpretation of that post was that a bunch of smart and funny geeks were having a great time commenting on a truly disgusting parasite one of their number picked up on a trip to Belize.

The parasite has a name, Bob the Botfly, and there are photos as well.

With all due respect to the scientists/geeks, I think we cancer patients can top this.

So let’s get started. I want to hear about your absolutely most disgusting cancer experience.

OK, geeks – challenge accepted!

What’s your absolutely most disgusting science experience?

I wrote about my own absolutely most disgusting science experience on my old NN blog back in April 2008; the post describes the experiment I did with an empty bucket by my side, and which resulted in me being called Dr. Monkey Bum for several months during my postdoc. Ah, memories…

Let’s hear your story! Can anyone beat Kyrsten?!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
This entry was posted in blog wars, career, freakishness, medicine, meta, monkeys, nature, personal, photos, science, silliness, TMI. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Geeky Grossness Gauntlet

  1. KJHaxton says:

    Just before I left, my postdoc lab was doing some work with bladder tissue. They determined that rat bladders were too small to be inverted and used for tests so they contacted a local slaughterhouse for a supply of fresh pig bladders. Two of the research team had to go early in the morning to collect the supply, armed with jars of buffer solutions and boxes of ice to keep the tissue viable. Once they got back to the lab, work had to start immediately, and almost as immediately there was the loudest shrieking screaming laughter I’d ever heard. I don’t know if it was similar logic to your monkey bum, or because they were both females, but the good folks at the slaughter house had very kindly left the very well endowed pig penis still attached to the bladder.
    I made sure I was working else where on subsequent bladder days.

  2. Cath@VWXYNot? says:


    That is excellent XD

  3. Zen Faulkes says:

    I have never had a truly disgusting science experience. Sure a few bad smells (and dead marine things STINK like nothing else), but nothing that has made me even come close to vomiting, say.

    The one thing that comes to mind, though, was a dissection on a big spanner crab. I was trying to get out the nerve cord, which I’d done in quite a few different crabs and crayfish and such. But this animal was big, and the inside had way more muscle and convolutions of the exoskeleton for muscle attachment, and a heavier exoskeleton, than anything else I’d ever worked with.

    I lost all my technique cutting through all that, and was almost reduced to random hacking. I felt like a butcher.

  4. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Ah yes, I had a similar experience the first time I ate lobster. However, four lobster dinners in one week later (hey, we were in Nova Scotia), I was getting quite good at it!

  5. ricardipus says:

    I have fortunately missed out on all such ickiness. But the lab I did my PhD in also did alpha-1-antitrypsin assays as a service. One source of such things is, you guessed it, fecal tissue. We didn’t process those samples, but hearing the technician say “NO! We DON’T DO THAT!!” on the phone from time to time was always good fun.

    Another postdoc in the lab had, in her previous lab, prepared sheared human placental DNA. From a nice fresh placenta from the nearby hospital. Now *that* tips my ick sensor into the red.

  6. Too many to list, but the one that keeps coming to haunt me is the urine specimen I had to process when working in a hospital lab during my pre-grad school years … the specimen was dark green and had things crawling in it … if it hadn’t been labeled as a urine sample, I would have thought it was pond scum.

  7. cromercrox says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say iy again – I’m sooo glad I studied paleontology. However, one day the zoology museum in Cambridge (where I was a grad student) took delivery of a rhino carcass that had to be dismembered. Anyone who opened the zoo museum chest freezer for some time afterwards was confronted with four legs sticking up, one at each corner.

  8. abigail says:

    Mine doesn’t involve whole animals but rather pots of pig blood that I had to leave for a week at room temp so I could study the effects of natural lysis on the serum proteins (basically check that if our lab got a bad sample – could we still use our assays on it – supervisors idea). I ended up doing it over the easter break and even storing them in a fume hood – managed to stink out the entire lab. I discovered that not only does blood really smell, it turns a multitude of colours which I took photos of and eventually when I started retching, had to throw the whole lot in an autoclave before disposing of. Even worse, my supervisor then decided that it was useful but wasn’t worth doing anything else with – 2 months later at a conference – we saw a poster describing a similar experiment but they had wimped out at 3 days!

  9. chall says:

    Ah Bob the Botfly – the thing that made me remember yet again why I love the cold climate countries 😉

    As for my ickfactor; maybe the necropsy time and the moose on the table was green and white… and that’s when I realised that the white things were moving (maggots) and the green was… ehh… rotten meat… That was a millisecond before the smell hit me. … needless to say, no food for a bit.

    Then there is that fascination (as least for me) to see a skilled DVM (or probably a butcher could do it too) “slice up” a horse with a fillet knife in order to make it fit into the biohazard bags to be autoclaved so others didn’t get infected. I guess it’s the knowledge of where all the muscles connect and bones are so you really don’t need that much more than a wickedly sharp knife? But it’s not gross per se? Or I’m just desensitized?

    Now, the slicing the head of the mice to look at the “nose part” and see how infected they are …. I’m happy I never had to do that… it was stressful enough to look at it being done.

  10. KJHaxton says:

    Chall just reminded me – we do forensic science and the final year students doing dissertations (literature based, no experimental work). There are always a couple on forensic etomology – the order bugs go to corpses, the life cycles of maggots etc. I once made the mistake of reading a draft for a student first thing in the morning, straight after breakfast, straight before a staff meeting. I spent most of the meeting trying not to throw up. I’ve seen a few talks on this from folks that work at the Tennessee facility (known as the body farm). The pictures in those talks, maggots crawling all over male genitalia, right after lunch? (actually looked like the body was sandy until you looked really closely) That cleared a few folks out of the room pretty swiftly! [apparently the flys like orifices to lay their eggs in, any orifice…]

    • chall says:

      yeah… there is that… “(actually looked like the body was sandy until you looked really closely)” – my mistake that green/white time as well as my first autopsy… I turned white when I realised what I was looking at since I really didn’t think too much about it at first. Ah, to be a naive undergraduate again 😉

  11. Kyrsten says:

    Sadly, I managed to almost outdo myself a year and half later, when sitting on the patio of an expensive restaurant, I got bit by a spider. What little biology I’ve taken allowed me to confirm the identity of a wolf spider, and thus making me feel ok…until that night when I started to swell around the site. Being a microbiologist, I was able to see the hallmarks of a lovely S. aureus infection and swiftly got myself to the hospital, with a swelling about 5 inches in diameter – and was immediately put on some massive doses of antibiotics. The weird thing? it was the other leg, SAME SPOT. A good friend told me shortly thereafter that “I shouldn’t let insects try and get fresh with me”.

    Oh, and as for nasty samples – a friend of mine in grad school has the short-sightedness to work on Giardia, then be surprised that his project involved PCR from fecal samples. He used to joke that if someone had a banana, he had a “shitty day” (banana’s high level of potassium can inactivate the PCR reaction in some cases).

  12. This is a great collection of stories… although not one that should be read anywhere near meal times!

    Ricardipus, one of the other postdocs in my old lab was working on placental DNA, prepared from fresh samples. I didn’t envy her her project (on non-baboon days, anyway), but I’d actually say that placentas are less gross than some other human organs!

    PiT, that’s horrifying! Were the “things” crawling in the sample just bacteria, or are we talking macroscopic? (pre-emptive shudder). And do you remember what condition that poor person had?!

    Henry, I don’t think a frozen rhino quite holds up to some of these other stories, but it must have been quite the sight!

    Abigail, welcome to the blog! That pig blood story sounds just awful! It sounds like you might have come up with the worst-smelling story… at least someone got some meaningful data out of it though, I guess!

    Chall, maggots are my Room 101 critter, for sure. I have very little tolerance for even the thought of them… yuck! I’m glad I never had to do necropsies (or animal work of any kind!) – you’re clearly made of sterner stuff than I am!

    KJ, my old lab once intereviewed a postdoctoral candidate who was working on something similar to that for her PhD… something about the effects of anti-depressant drugs on the rate of colonisation by insects. We took her out for lunch without the boss, so she could ask us questions about the lab… but instead, we spent most of our time in fascinated grossness, asking her questions about her work!

    She didn’t end up working with us, but I can’t remember why!

    Kyrsten, I’d forgotten about your subsequent spider escapades! You really did have a bad couple of years with the creepy crawlies there…

  13. I’m thinking that an upcoming vote-for-the-grossest contest may be in order!

  14. I think the geeks are beating the cancer patients!

    I’ll post a link to this on my blog and see if a few more cancer patients want to weigh in with their disgusting stories.

    My father was a vet, and I used to help him with surgery sometimes (at the age of 12 or so), so I don’t get grossed out by live animals being cut open, but some of these stories made me very glad I became a writer rather than a research scientist.

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