By Grant Jacobs 15/12/2018

Today I read that a scientific paper has hidden a face in a turd. Who could it be?

The paper is research in faecal genomics, sequencing DNA in turds.



It’s aims are fair enough. It’s easier to collect DNA from faeces than from wild animals. A catch is that faeces tend to have DNA from a lot other things in their guts, like gut bacteria. If you’re wanting to DNA sequence the animals that pooped, that’s a hassle. It there a way to do better?



On the third page in the top-left of Figure 1 there is a baboon.



The baboon looks as if it’s just pooped. (And is looking at its turd?)



Looking closer, that turd might have a face in it.



Or this just pareidolia? Let’s look closer.


Who could it be?


It turns out that putting faces in turds makes your paper popular. This paper is now easily the most popular paper in that journal, nearly four times as popular as any other –

There will be editors, and readers not in on the joke, wondering just why a faecal genomics paper is that popular…


Update: the offending object has been flushed.

You can stop downloading the paper trying to find the face. According to CDC and elsewhere, the journal has removed the illustration. Apparently they have offered no comment.


It’s the weekend. I can write something more… relaxed. Yes, this is for real. I’ve taken all my screen grabs from the paper itself. Anyone who wants to save this for posterity ought to download the paper soon. It’ll probably get edited… (Now that’s one way to get your paper downloads up! Edit: It is too; see the Update, above the Footnotes.)

Here’s one reply to how reviewers could have possibly found this during peer review –

For the uninitiated, the third (hint, hint) reviewer is legendarily the one that craps on your paper. (Yes, I’ll see myself out…)

Hat-tip to Mick Watson for alerting me to the tweet by Jonathon Eisen.

Other articles on Code for life

  • Aww, crap. Some pitcher plants have adapted to be tree-shrew toilets…
  • Preserving endangered species — of gut microbes A interesting idea – new to me – that we should not only conserve rare species of animals but also microbes in our gut that reflect now-rare diets.
  • Finding platypus venom Researchers cleverly did not extract the venom, but created possible venoms by comparing the platypus genome with known venomous proteins and expressing the genes that matched. (One of my favourites, platypuses are extraordinary creatures.)
  • Genome-edited babies – what’s the worry? A look at the biological concerns of baby girls that He Jiankui genome-edited in China.
  • Go voyage the great beyond A tribute to Voyage 2 on it’s passing out into interstellar space.

About the featured image

Cropped image of part of Figure 3 of the paper.

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