Shit Happens; Business and Science Follow
January 6, 2019 6:33 AM   Subscribe

...One day Chesleigh Fields, the lab's 35-year-old chief scientist with a master's degree in forensic DNA and serology, had an idea: Why not use DNA to figure out which dogs (and dog owners) left pet poop unscooped? She could use her background in forensics to bring awareness to a problem recognized globally as a health hazard. "You take an unknown, and you match it to a known," she says. Dog feces attract rats. She could create the CSI of dog doo!

...PooPrints' business model works like this. If you live in a building where the program has been established, participation is usually mandatory as part of a lease or condo agreement. A dog owner swabs the inside of his or her pet's cheek and mails the sample in to Biopet, where a DNA sample is taken and entered into the company's World Pet Registry for $40.

...An interesting thing happens after pets are registered in the PooPrints DNA system. Violations plummet. People pick up after their dogs. "We've had reports of a 95 percent drop," says Chesleigh Fields. She admits, though, there was some push back at first. "It sounded like a 'Big Brother' product, instead of a product aimed to help increase pet acceptance into places." It took time to convince property owners — and tenants — that discarded dog feces is a health hazard and a system to reduce it actually makes properties more accepting of pets.


The PooPrints system is now in over 3,000 US housing complexes, and Biopet is on its way toward making millions of dollars. Of course, it is hardly the only enterprise using poop to answer important questions. Consider Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada tested Canadians’ poop this year to see how much cannabis residents of five of the country’s largest cities — about 8.4 million citizens total — were using. The pilot programs, which ran from March to August, used a relatively new technique called wastewater epidemiology to examine sewage from 15 treatment plants.

... The answer to the burning question: On average, each person in the test consumed about 540 micrograms a week, or 0.2 grams a year, which isn’t very much. Overall, the government guesses that citizens of the five cities consume roughly 4,500 grams of pot a week in total — though with a margin of error of roughly 1,700 grams in either direction. The margin of error is high because sewage-based cannabis estimates were “highly sensitive to the excretion rate and THC potency,” Statistics Canada said.


An analysis of poop may produce some surprising results. This past year, for the first time, microplastics were discovered in eight human stool samples analysed as part of a pilot study conducted by Environment Agency Austria. The agency used newly developed analytical procedures to test for 10 different types of plastic. Inside the participants' poop they found nine of the 10 types of plastic.

National Geographic investigated the issue. “I’d say microplastics in poop are not surprising,” says Chelsea Rochman, an ecologist at the University of Toronto, who studies the effects of microplastics on fish. “For me, it shows we are eating our waste—mismanagement has come back to us on our dinner plates. And yes, we need to study how it may affect humans.”

If you don't have the, er, stomach for pursuing human poop issues, consider investigating fossilised dinosaur poop, called coprolite, instead. That is not necessarily easy.

... to do her research, Chin has to overcome a dino poop “paradox.” For every dinosaur that roamed the planet, it had to have defecated “gazillions of times,” she says. Yet, coprolites are much more difficult to come by than skeletal fossils of dinosaurs out in the field—mainly due to the specific conditions needed to create fossils.

But that may not be the only reason for the seeming shortage of dinosaur poop.

What happened to all the dinosaur dung? Cockroaches vacuumed it up, a new study suggests. Researchers from the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Slovakia stumbled on the finding by accident while researching the diet of ancient cockroaches in the now-extinct Blattulidae family. Using sophisticated imaging methods, they found particles of wood inside the roach's gut that they think came from dinosaur feces.
posted by Bella Donna (42 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
What I want is some kind of poop bag registry so that people who leave plastic-wrapped shits on the side of the trail, which never break down or wash away but instead turn into festering sores of brightly-colored oozing foulness, can be brought to justice.

Seriously, what are you doing? If you're not going to take it home with you, better to just leave it where it lies or flick it into the woods with a stick. Bagging it but then still leaving it is literally the worst thing you could possibly do.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:45 AM on January 6, 2019 [62 favorites]


Charitably, I'd like to think that those people were intending to pick up the bag on their way out but forgot. Uncharitably, I'm completely with you on the WTF.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:50 AM on January 6, 2019 [8 favorites]


The National Geographic article is kind of mentioning this, but... while the issue of microplastic particles permeating the entire biosphere is notable, I would think that humans have at least been full of plastic fibers ever since artificial fiber cloth has been commonly available. And it just seems like no one's ever bothered to study it.
posted by XMLicious at 7:18 AM on January 6, 2019 [5 favorites]




Given the problems with DNA forensics, I wonder how accurate the dog poop DNA tests actually are, and how much the value of this arises from the general belief that DNA matching is foolproof.

Poop especially. How many random species of bacteria are going to be in that sample? I'd be interested in knowing how they say they've solved these problems.
posted by clawsoon at 7:25 AM on January 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's not at all difficult to choose markers that won't cross-amplify between a bacterium and a dog. I'm not saying there aren't problems, but I doubt that's going to be one of them.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:39 AM on January 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


I was living in an apartment complex that introduced the dog DNA requirement. The amount of uncollected poop dropped to almost zero for a few months, but then the deterrent effect seemed to end and it was back to normal.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:53 AM on January 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


AI toilets will scan your poop to diagnose your ailments

Capitalism being what it is, toilets at workplaces will also do drug and pregnancy testing (you can fire pregnant women if they don't know they're pregnant yet!) and log toilet usage time.
posted by sukeban at 8:32 AM on January 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


Dip Flash: Did the apartment complex pursue action on the violations? Or did they just rely on the possible threat?
posted by aleph at 9:06 AM on January 6, 2019


I don’t think there was much if any; leaving poop was clearly a low risk activity. If there was active enforcement that would be different I am sure.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:13 AM on January 6, 2019


Given the problems with DNA forensics, I wonder how accurate the dog poop DNA tests actually are, and how much the value of this arises from the general belief that DNA matching is foolproof.

The list of challenges in the Guardian article revolve around trace samples and cross contamination. Taking a sample from a steaming pile of poo isn't really going to run into that; if it matches Rex from two blocks over you can treat the result as nigh certain.

Someone from a neighboring state who comes after you for trespassing because they did a soil scraping and it pointed to your dog having once taken a shit in their lawn before you bagged it and removed it, I'll be on on your side.
posted by mark k at 9:14 AM on January 6, 2019


The far-right wing mayor of Béziers (France), Robert Ménard, has been trying for years to implement a mandatory dog poop DNA registry, though he's still fighting the courts about the city's right to do this. Ménard has been claiming that this was successfully implemented in several cities around the world. However, he's a far-right blowhard with a history of provocative stunts (a number of them illegal under French law), so Ménard's obsession with dog poop is hardly politically neutral. He's distributed free THC-test kits to concerned parents too.
posted by elgilito at 9:16 AM on January 6, 2019


The dog waste tracking system relies on dog owner cooperation. It's one of those systems where when you believe all your neighbours are doing it you do it to. But it also relies on you giving genuine DNA samples of all the dogs you have. The first thing I thought of was the type of jerk who will be damned if they'll clean up after their dog if they don't have to, when handed the DNA test kit to use on their dogs will get the sample from someone else's dog.

People smuggle pets in contrary to their leases all the time, so swearing you only have two dogs but actually having four is going to mean only giving two samples and those belonging to dogs that belong to your breeder (puppy mill) that are a similar type.

So I wonder if they are going to match the DNA samples to the purported dogs to catch out people who provide a sample from an enormous slobbery great Dane but actually are walking a small yapping sheepskin floor mat.

Of course as soon as I thought of that I read further and discovered they are trying to get all the dogs in Chicago typed, and pictured the sanitation sleuths getting the reading for a dog that supposedly always uses the dog park in their condo complex turning up dozens and dozens of samples in a scattering of parks miles away. After all, if I let you get a DNA sample from my dog to pass off as yours, I am likely the same kind of jerk as you are and also feel that cleaning up after my dog is something they can't make me do.

I'm halfway to the plot of "The Dog Park Murders". The killer will turn out to be a mild older gentleman who always, always cleans up scrupulously and has a pocketful of dog biscuits with which he rewards his panting, obese, extraordinarily cooperative canine companion, the red herring will be that there is a purported rapist stalking late-night solo dog walkers, but in fact, his motive is one that will have a bunch of us nodding in complacent agreement. They had it coming.

***

"Cancer." Milgram said quietly. "The vet told me. She only has a few days left now. I can tell she's hurting a bit when she climbs the stairs. I was going to bring her in Friday." He bent down and rubbed his hands through the shaggy white fur. "You're a good girl, aren't you, Charlotte? Yes, you are." Charlotte wheezed ecstatically. Her round brown eyes bulged as she tried to arch up into his hand.

"Once she's gone there's no reason for me to be around." The old man straightened up with an effort. "The box of shells had twenty-four in it when I bought it. It has three left. It was going to be two more this week and the last one, Friday night for me." A small smile crept onto his features. "She's always been such a good girl. Eleven years ago I decided it was over, but there was Charlotte, so I held off all this long time. I couldn't do it until she didn't need me any longer. Well, she won't need me very much more."
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:24 AM on January 6, 2019 [15 favorites]




Best. Shitpost. Ever!
posted by Lizard at 9:35 AM on January 6, 2019 [15 favorites]


My current apartment building does not have the dog poop testing, but has said that if dog poop becomes an issue they'll start using it. So it can have a deterrence effect without even being implemented!
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:46 AM on January 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


On average, each person in the test consumed about 540 micrograms a week, or 0.2 grams a year, which isn’t very much. Overall, the government guesses that citizens of the five cities consume roughly 4,500 grams of pot a week in total

Gah. Bad science reporting on a fairly badly written paper! It is, firstly, a pilot study only, and only makes very rough estimates of the sort of results it might indicate. But, because it doesn't explain its methodology properly (what's the point in publishing a pilot study if you don't set out the methodology with precision and detail?), the numbers have become hopelessly garbled when this unfortunate journalist has tried to cut and paste a story together. The numbers, as presented, are just nonsense. Reading to the end would have revealed this, however:
annual cannabis consumption is highly sensitive to the excretion rate and THC potency, hence the need for more research into these factors before WBE can be used to make a confident estimate of total national cannabis consumption.

For example, for cannabis with 12% potency (weight of THC in total weight of cannabis), the total estimated consumption for 2018 can range between 400 and 1 600 tonnes, depending on the excretion rate that is used
That is to say they've no idea how much cannabis people use, other than it's a whole bunch and if they can have that grant now they'll be back to tell you exactly how much in 3 years' time fingers crossed...
posted by howfar at 11:44 AM on January 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


I really don't understand why dog poop being just left where it lays is a problem. So you don't like looking at poop. Well unfortunately you live on earth and creatures have to poop. I mean?
posted by bleep at 1:09 PM on January 6, 2019


I mean, if it's in the middle of a sidewalk? or on a stairwell? or in grass where children play? It can carry disease?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:14 PM on January 6, 2019 [15 favorites]


bleep, dog poop is apparently a health hazard as noted in TFA but on my phone so cannot offer additional details apart from those offered by a business called Doody Calls. May be bogus.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:15 PM on January 6, 2019


Bleep- to me, it's partially that I don't want my unobservant kids to step in dog shit when playing on their own lawn, and partially the rudeness of someone who doesn't see an issue with befouling someone else's property or public space (similar to how I feel about littering). As noted already shit in plastic bags is even worse!!

I had a friend who became so furious at someone in her neighbourhood that kept letting his dog shit all over her lawn, she was planning to take a shit of her own and dump it on his doorstep. She never did and he either moved away or changed his route.... probably for the best.
posted by DTMFA at 1:27 PM on January 6, 2019


My totally unrealistic wish is that my city started doing this for cats too - I live in a fairly urban area but it's somewhere where everyone lets their cats roam and aside from the annoyance of being woken up in the middle of the night by cat yowling/cat fights right outside of my bedroom window all of the time, I also have to deal with trying to patrol my fenced-in back yard for cat shit, which my dog considers the finest delicacy on earth but that I really do not want her eating.

My yard is surrounded by yards with big outdoor dogs, and my yard has bird feeders, so it is the preferred yard for all of the neighborhood cats to hang out in - some days I see 5 or 6 different ones prowling around out there so I can't even imagine what it's like at night. Anyway, the amount of cat shit I end up cleaning from my yard is ridiculous and my dog always ends up finding what I missed and eating it. It's especially frustrating because I *always* clean up my dog's shit when I walk her around the neighborhood. Sigh.

P.S. I hope this doesn't start a derail about outdoor cats - definitely not what I'm trying to do. Just frustrated by their poop in the same way that people are about dog poop!
posted by primalux at 1:32 PM on January 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Humans concentrate dogs and their poop. It would be difficult or impossible to have so many luxuriously-fed omnivores in any natural landscape. Things humans choose to do, humans are responsible for the results of.
posted by clew at 1:33 PM on January 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


I really don't understand why dog poop being just left where it lays is a problem.

I think you are underestimating how much poop an entire community's worth of dogs makes, and how long it lasts before disintegrating.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:36 PM on January 6, 2019 [9 favorites]


I really don't understand why dog poop being just left where it lays is a problem.

I just played "dance past the dog shit" on my way back to my Queens apartment and hoo boy let me tell you, it's A Problem. Aside from it being a biohazard, everyone who doesn't see an issue with leaving their pet's waste on the sidewalk is thinking the exact same thing, which wouldn't be so bad if it were like, 1 person instead of 14 in a certain area. Most unfortunately for literally everyone, it adds up. And unless it rains, it lingers. For a while.

Also it's just kind of inconsiderate, yanno? We're responsible for the animals that we take into our care in every other way; this should not be an exception.
posted by Ashen at 2:03 PM on January 6, 2019 [11 favorites]


I still don't understand the folks who drop bags of dog poop on the trail -- the other day I spotted (and collected) a bag that was less than 20 yards from the garbage bin. I cannot at all fathom the thought processes that led to that decision.

Anyway, just leaving dog waste on the street or the trail is bad: it carries bacteria that can harm the groundwater or other organisms. On the other hand, I understand that it can be processed by the standard wastewater/sewage system, the same as human waste. However cat poop should never be put in the sewage system, and should go into landfill.
posted by suelac at 2:12 PM on January 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


The management of the freshly injection-molded condopartment bunker my mom (and her unbearably adorable dog) recently moved into is claiming they're going to start doing this. I put this right smack in the middle of the Venn diagram of Orwellian, neo-bourgeois, and "unaired Monty Python sketch".
posted by the painkiller at 2:29 PM on January 6, 2019


howfar, apologies for linking to a badly reported study and/or a bad study. I do not have the chops to judge the science but was charmed by the notion that Statistics Canada tested Canadians’ poop this year to see how much cannabis they were using. That it apparently did not work is a bummer. But are citizens raising a shit storm about it? That's what I wanna know.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:57 PM on January 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


I really don't understand why dog poop being just left where it lays is a problem.

Somebody let their dog shit on the stairs in our building. The inside stairs. (At least, we are really hoping it was a dog, because the alternatives are not better).
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:00 PM on January 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


I really don't understand why dog poop being just left where it lays is a problem.

From the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District's "Pick Up Poop!" website:
"Did you know dog droppings can impact our groundwater, streams, and lake? When it rains, bacteria from doggie doo can soak into groundwater, or be carried by rainwater to storm sewers which carry the flow to nearby streams. In both cases, the water is not treated at a wastewater treatment plant, and that's not good for the environment."
"But isn't it just fertilizer?" you may ask-

From their blog:
"Dogs present a special problem. Built to eat almost anything, dogs have as especially large number of intestinal bacteria to digest that wide variety of food, about 23 million bacteria per gram of waste. Due to dogs' high-protein diets, their waste is highly acidic. It is not a fertilizer and can contain 10 times as much fecal coliform bacteria as cow manure, and also a whole lot of nasty stuff like e. coli, salmonella, and giardia."
posted by soundguy99 at 3:11 PM on January 6, 2019 [12 favorites]


These folks hosted/sponsored/created maybe an art show in San Francisco in 2013 so apparently this is not a hoax. What kind of people would send shit to other people?

IPoopYou.com is a professional poop delivery service.

There are hundreds of reasons and thousands of people who deserve shit mailed to their door. Don’t get your hands messy, our specialists will do the dirty work for you!

posted by Bella Donna at 3:17 PM on January 6, 2019


Canine feces can carry roundworms and hookworms, which are transmissible to humans. Especially small humans that dig in dirt and then eat. Google "visceral larval migrans" for your viewing pleasure. Also, loads of dog shit everywhere is just gross.
posted by SinAesthetic at 3:21 PM on January 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


I really don't understand why dog poop being just left where it lays is a problem.

I consider it one of the most important achievements of modern civilization that we don’t have to live our lives surrounded by shit.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:43 PM on January 6, 2019 [14 favorites]


howfar, apologies for linking to a badly reported study and/or a bad study

I don't think it's necessarily a bad pilot study. It just feels to me like their write-up was mainly seeking research funding from someone flush with cash. I don't know if anyone has money to dump into that sort of research these days, but if it looks like we'll 'ave a Tory government for a while, I guess everything will go to shit in the end.
posted by howfar at 4:01 PM on January 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Guys I think we've covered "Why people don't like living in literal shit 101" now.
posted by howfar at 4:02 PM on January 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Like most civilizational problems, a lot of it is density-dependent. Kind of like how it's OK for people to shit in a cathole in the woods when they're camping in the wilderness, but if people started doing that in New York City it would be the end of the fucking world within about a day. Of course, even in the wilderness some of the most sensitive and popular areas now require people to pack out their own poop, because just dispersing it throughout the environment has become untenable. That goes for dogs, too—and in my experience, most dogs will poop about once per hour when they're in the woods, as opposed to once every day or two. Some dogs will poop three or four times in a single sub-two-mile walk; they just seem to love poopin' in the woods and do it every chance they get.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:24 PM on January 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Dog shit is slippery, too.

/It's one of those systems where when you believe all your neighbours are doing it you do it to

Tragedy of the Poop-Smeared Commons
posted by emjaybee at 5:38 PM on January 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Dog shit is slippery, too.

When I was a kid, in a place where there were neither leash laws nor poop-pick-up laws, I distinctly remember the sensation of stepping barefoot into fresh dog shit as both gritty and slippery. You could feel the graininess as it mushed up between your toes.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 PM on January 6, 2019


"I think you become an entrepreneur simply because you want to make money," he says.
NO!!!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:36 PM on January 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Given the problems with DNA forensics, I wonder how accurate the dog poop DNA tests actually are, and how much the value of this arises from the general belief that DNA matching is foolproof.

See, I'm thinking more about all the wrongfully-scolded innocent doggies that could be exonerated by some sort of DNA-evidence Good Dog Project.
posted by straight at 9:59 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


The first thing I thought reading about Poopie-CSI , I would just swipe the swap on my own cheek. Do they include a requirement on the lease that Poop Sherlock LLC gets to demand additional swabs? It seems like PoopGeniusCo is trying to reduce their costs by avoiding paying someone to do the collection, and it seems only just and proper that all right-thinking renters help them learn of this error in their business model. Also I think I'd be tempted to find the most exotic cheek swab possible each time they asked for a repeat. "Hey Mel! We got a walrus this time!"
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 4:42 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


It seems like PoopGeniusCo is trying to reduce their costs by avoiding paying someone to do the collection

I don't know how I'd feel about giving up a dog DNA sample but if I had to I'd be more annoyed if I also had to schedule time (presumably during working hours) to meet someone who would swab my dog's cheek.
posted by mark k at 9:03 PM on January 7, 2019


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