On the Contemplation of Panda Poo


The BBC is reporting that a Cardiff University study is revising the numbers of pandas left in the wild upward – and it all has to do with panda poo.

“A panda can defecate 40 times a day so there’s loads of poo to find,” said Prof Bruford.

“They also secrete a mural layer which gives an insight into the cells in their guts and we can extract their DNA from it.

“When we found the same profile in a number of different locations at different times, it showed how mobile the pandas are,” he said.

The good news is that there are apparently more pandas left to leave those poo samples behind than was previously known. But who knew that it could be so dangerous to hunt the wild panda poo?

“The mountains are an absolutely wonderful place but it can be cold and difficult in winter.

“Our PhD student nearly fell off a cliff trying to gather samples, he was having to hike up 2,500 metres.”

Oh, those ubiquitous, anonymous, and expendable Ph.D. students! Where would science be without them?


Oh, those ubiquitous, anonymous, and expendable Ph.D. students! Where would science be without them?

indeed; not only do they do all the dirty work, but in many universities, they bear the brunt of the teaching load as well.

my own case was a perfect example:

one field season in mexico I had to survive no less that 3 hurricanes (and two large tropical storms) moving near or through the marine study area we were working on.

teaching 3 seperate courses when back at the university for about 50 hours of work per week (and getting paid for 39.9 hours).

anybody who thinks being a PhD student is easy…

anyway, hats off to ‘em.

There should be a song or something.

At long last science offers an answer to the question, “Does a bear…”

“Does a bear…”

Apparently 50 times a day. Seriosuly, that made me laugh.

Who knew there were so many Pandas in Cardiff!

Can’t top the risks from either cliffs or hurricanes, nor the gross-out factor of panda poo. As a Ph.D. student in an entomological laboratory, I did sometimes give the appearance of braving great danger; when we demonstrated the hunting behaviors of our wasps to visiting students, I was always the one who put my hand (holding a small cup of live caterpillars) into the wasp cage.

Of course, the wasps were solitary hunting vespids (Eumeninae), which are extremely unlikely to sting you if you’re not restraining them and are not a prey item yourself. It still impressed the heck out of a visiting faculty candidate, a slightly insectophobic human physiologist who probably still can’t believe that we almost never got stung.

A panda can defecate 40 times a day

Thank jebus–I thought I was the only one.

“A panda can defecate 40 times a day…”

I take it Professor Steve Steve prefers not to stray too far from a bathroom, then.

It must also account for his name as he must be constantly absenting himself in the middle of conversations: “Steve…Steve?”.

“Our PhD student nearly fell off a cliff trying to gather samples, he was having to hike up 2,500 metres.”

Yeah. They are the “Red-Shirts” of the research world.

“Our PhD student nearly fell off a cliff trying to gather samples, he was having to hike up 2,500 metres.”

Does anyone else find that figure (8250 feet) a bit of an exaggeration for a vertical distance to hike? (It says “up”.) There almost certainly aren’t a lot of forests at elevations much higher than that. Were they starting from sea level? Or is that simply the elevation they were hiking at, which is close to the point where some people start getting altitude sickness? I’ve done many a High Sierra trek that didn’t have that much total elevation delta, let alone just “up”.

I would have thought students would be de-turd from studying this


It’s a natural selection process - only survivors may get the PhD.

Fortunately I was sequestered in a lab - wait, no, that didn’t help. There was those diborane leaks, the transformator fire, my collegue who was thrown across the lab from high voltage, the unlabeled flasks with chemicals, … Oh, well, maybe I earned that PhD after all!


“Our PhD student nearly fell off a cliff trying to gather samples, he was having to hike up 2,500 metres.”

Yeah. They are the “Red-Shirts” of the research world.

I believe the actors are credited with the part of “Ensign Toast”.

Oh Lawd!!! those grad students. And what many memories does that bring to my mind. Sampling in a coral reef when the waves from a storm away in the sea was pounding our poor bodies. Not to mention the guy who pull out a tiger shark ( 12 feet of mean female) from nearby and you can’t see squat in the water. Long live science!!!! Not that a lab is anything safe. With hot strange liquids boiling and flasks exploding, to electric shocks and who knows what else. I say cheers for the underpaid slave in residence of a grad student… Yup I believe we did earned that degree.

“Bear”? I thought pandas were more closely related to raccoons… somebody? Anybody?

Early in PT’s history, the phylogeny of the giant panda and red panda were the subject of a post. Conclusion: the giant panda groups with other bears, and the red panda groups with the raccoons.

The idea of the two pandas being related probably had something to do with the fact that both have the “sixth finger,” the fact that both are called “pandas,” the mask-like markings on the Giant Panda’s face, and so on. It doesn’t hurt that at least a few sciency-types were still under the impression that the two were closely related. Also, ideas like that tend to keep in circulation long after they should be laid to rest largely for the fact that anybody can whip it out and pull a “Did you know that (incredible fact contrary to common sense)?” I remember reading books, websites, trivia-bubbles, etc. published well past the nineties saying that the Giant Panda was more closely related to the racoons.

Just in case anyone out there doesn’t get it.

I have a mate who now has her doctorate, but in the course of a few years she has spent significant amounts of time:

1. Crawling through caves with some very tight spaces to collect bat guano;

2. Wrestling seals on a small island in the North Sea to obtain blood samples;

3. Collecting snails in the desert.

Glamor, glamor, glamor. She doesn’t like it when I remind her some 15 year old fast food technicians get paid more a week than she eeks out of her grant money.

So I guess even panda poo has made a greater contribution to science than ID.

Well, that’s what I get for not going past Bi12 back in the 70’s. Still, maybe someone else was too chicken to ask and got pointed in the right direction, too. Thanks for that.

With hot strange liquids boiling and flasks exploding, to electric shocks and who knows what else.

frequent exposure to heavy carcinogens and other toxics, if you’re a chemistry grad!

heck, I had enough of that kind of exposure as an undergrad (2 years of physical and organic chemistry lab) to make me a bit worried.

So what can Panda Poo teach us?

From DNA samples it is possible to reconstruct habitat ranges of individual pandas, breeding patterns, and the genetic structure and diversity of panda populations. It should also be possible to infer information about male breeding success rates and female fertility (baby poo). It can be used to test the hypothesis that there is substructuring within the species and that there are 2 subspecies of giant pandas.

What can we teach pandas about pooing?

By teaching pandas to use the vacuity toilet we can reduce risks to graduate students in collecting panda poo, reducing time in the long hunt tracking pandas and poo trails and the subsequent degradation of DNA samples. It will be possible to accurately quantify the defecation frequency of wild pandas and test for age and sex differences. We can ask questions like how does diet effect poo rates and volume, are there changes in he microbial flora with dietary shifts, how does microbial flora change spatially across a panda population, are there populations differences? Does the genetic structure and diversity differ between panda populations, and how do all these differ between the proposed subspecies, all potential thesis projects.

While it may be argued that pandas will be constantly running for the outhouse and choose to continue to fertilize the forest forgoing the comforts of a warm heated seat in the cold of winter or the soft rolls of tissue. This is easily remedied by placing toilets in a grid pattern that ensures pandas are always close to a facility, this also simplifies monitoring changes in a pandas home range. A site meter could be installed in each facility with a radio transmitter that would alert a central research station to the frequency of use and allow graduate students to collect samples before the facility becomes full. Panda ranges probably have multiple overlaps. This means some stations would require more attention than others. Since the toilet system needs to segregate poo samples from each individual for storage and collection, the system will need modification. ID was instrumental in the design of the vacuity toilet by applying reverse engineering of a preexisting biological system and it seems appropriate that we apply ID principles to this problem and look for a biological system that can be reverse engineered to solve this modification problem. A possible biological solution is the type III secretory system. Normally, deposits in the vacuity toilet would be gravity delivered to the septic system but in the poo collection system it would be connected to an enlarged reversed engineered type III secretory system which would pump the poo out through the facility wall and aliquots injected into individual single use receptacles. A cursory examination suggests all the structures in the type III secretory system are analogous to standard plumbing parts and easily obtained from Home Depot. Since the Pandas live in remote regions, power for the systems is nonexistent and like type III secretory system relies chemical energy, lead acid batteries will be substituted for the ATPase. Aliquots of pumped poo could then be collected by researchers for analysis using “forensic techniques similar to those used by police departments.”

Contrary to the assertion that ID isn’t worth poo, it has the possibility to assist in the conservation of wild pandas.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

But how to keep them from squeezing the Charmin?

A careful examination of the label shows that the 2 species which routinely utilize Charmin and who have learned to squeeze the Charmin are not pandas. Although one of the species is more closely related to pandas suggesting that this learned behavior may be quickly acquired by the pandas, a more important factor suggested by the label is panda raiding of the toilet facilities for a comfy roll of tissue. I would expect this natural hording tendency of graduate students who are known to hoard supplies and would be especially vulnerable to soft comfy rolls of tissue in the wilds of China. Though panda toilet paper raids could easily lead to scenes of mayhem. Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on June 20, 2006 10:05 PM.

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