Quirks & Quarks

Feb 19: Roman porta-potty, rogue waves, why dogs can be tiny and titanic and more…

Half billion year old fossil nerves, a history of timekeeping and sleep and light.

Half billion year old fossil nerves, a history of timekeeping and sleep and light.

Humans have bred dogs for extreme size, but the genetics for this existed in ancient wolves. (otsphoto / Shutterstock)

On this week's episode of Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald

Researchers reveal an ancient Roman porta-potty

Roger Wilson, a professor in the department of classical, Near Eastern and religious studies at UBC, was part of a team that determined that a crusty deposit on the inside of a 1500 year-old clay pot was crystallized urine encapsulating eggs of a parasitic whipworm found in human feces. He suggests these pots, which are found frequently at Roman sites, were used as chamber pots. The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

This clay pot has been identified as a 5th century Roman portable toilet or chamber pot. It was found at a Roman villa at Gerace, Sicily. (Submitted by Roger Wilson)

A rare 'rogue wave' is captured by marine scientists

Rogue waves are a rare and potentially dangerous ocean phenomenon in which waves can suddenly appear that are two to three times higher than the surrounding waves. Johannes Gemmrich, a physical oceanographer at the University of Victoria, published work Scientific Reports analyzing a real whopper recorded off Vancouver Island in 2020 — a wave as high as a four-story building. His research may help scientists understand the physics of these mysterious and frightening waves.

Dogs range in size from tiny to enormous – and the gene behind the variation comes from wolves

Tiny dog breeds like chihuahuas can be one-fiftieth the size of big mastiffs and researchers now think they understand why. They've identified an important gene mutation that controls canid size, and a new study suggests this mutation was already present in wolves 50,000 years ago. Elaine Ostrander, a geneticist at the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, has been leading this investigation into the canine genome. The research was published in the journal Current Biology.

A 500 million year old fossil preserves the nervous system of an ancient sea creature

A new study of half-billion year old fossils from Canada's famous Burgess Shale has revealed a rare wonder: traces of the nervous system of an ancient arthropod related to modern spiders and scorpions. Javier Ortega-Hernandez, an assistant professor in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University made the discovery. His research was published in Nature Communications.

A Brief History of Timekeeping by Chad Orzel (BenBella books)

Marking the science and history of timekeeping, tick by tick.

One of the miracles of modern technology is that everyone knows what time it is. Our phones,  computers, televisions, cars and microwaves can all keep time with millisecond precision, and it all began with our earliest attempts to make sense of the movement of the sun, moon, and stars. Chad Orzel tracks every tick in his new book A Brief History of Timekeeping: The Science of Marking Time from Stonehenge to Atomic Clocks.

Quirks Listener Question. Do we sense light from other places in our body other than our eyes?

Paulo Arreaga in Vancouver asks "I work night shift and try to sleep during the day. I use a sleep mask. However, sometimes I feel like I can still sense light. Do we sense light from other places in our body other than our eyes? The answer comes from David Samson, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Toronto, Mississauga.


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