Octopuses on ecstasy and the mummy juice conspiracy: The weirdest science stories of 2018
We can all agree that science is amazing. However, sometimes scientists do get a little niche in their studies ... and things can get a bit strange. Here is a list of the weirdest science stories we came across this year, from twerking robots to bizarre snail-to-snail memory transference and a Fountain of Youth sarcophagus conspiracy that pretty much sums up 2018 in a nutshell.
Why scientists gave ecstasy to octopuses
If you've ever wondered what would happen if you gave an octopus a strong dose of ecstasy then wonder no more. A couple of intrepid researchers this year revealed the results of a compelling set of experiments finding that social behavior can be triggered in a particularly asocial species of octopus through exposure to MDMA.
While the researchers conducting the experiments concluded the results suggest octopuses are fundamentally socially regulated by the same neurotransmitters as humans, not everyone agreed. Other scientists accused the study of anthropomorphizing its observations, which is always an enticing option when observing animals.
The mystery of how, and why, wombats produce cubic poop
Wombat poo has mystified scientists for years. The shy Australian marsupial is unique for being the only animal in the world to produce cubic poo. A team of researchers finally uncovered exactly how this quiet animal produces its square feces, and the discovery could lead to novel manufacturing techniques.
It is hypothesized that because of the importance of poo as a communicative tool, the animal evolved the cube-shaped excretion as a way to efficiently pile up structures of droppings. After all, you couldn't exactly build a large pile out of round droppings as effectively as you could if it were square blocks.
Scientists build bricks with human urine
The ways modern science has harnessed the waste products of the human body for good may surprise, with researchers recently using urine to power mobile phones and hydrogen vehicles, and even form biological concrete. Then a team from the University of Cape Town developed what it said is the world's first biological brick made with human urine, with the strength able to be tweaked to serve a range of needs.
This technology has the potential to produce more than just environmentally friendly bricks. Describing urine as "liquid gold," the team points to the high amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium within it that can be captured and used as ingredients for commercial fertilizer, which would essentially equate to a manufacturing process that produces zero waste.
Pompeii skeleton found crushed under stone block while fleeing volcanic eruption
The ancient city of Pompeii is famous for containing over a thousand striking and unsettling figures of people frozen in time, preserved in ash for 2,000 years after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. This year, archaeologists excavating a new site uncovered a victim of the disaster with quite a story to tell. The skeleton was found with its head crushed beneath a huge stone block that was thrown by the force of the volcanic cloud.
Adding further tragedy to the story, examination of the skeleton revealed lesions on his tibia, indicating he was suffering from a bone infection. This probably would have caused him a lot of pain and maybe given him a limp, which wouldn't have helped his escape efforts.
Boston Dynamics' Spot can now dance, twerk, and do the running man
Boston Dynamics had an impressive year, and hot on the heels of video reveals showing Atlas mastering parkour, and its four-legged Spot wandering construction sites, the company released yet another video. This time unveiling a lighter, more playful side to its robots, with Spot dropping some impressive dance moves to a cover of Uptown Funk.
Perhaps in an attempt to counterbalance the frightening nightmare visions of Black Mirror, we saw undoubtedly one of the cutest robot videos to date. In it Spot displayed an impressive array of groovy dance moves, from an impressive version of the running man to some slightly disturbing twerking (proudly showing off its USB slot).
Scientists inject one snail's memories into another's brain
Learning new things would be so much easier if we could just download new knowledge into our brains, like in The Matrix. Now, biologists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) pulled off something similar – at least on a gastropod level – by effectively transferring a memory from a trained snail into the mind of an untrained one. The experiment could eventually lead to new treatments for restoring memory in Alzheimer's patients or for reducing traumatic memories.
The mind-bending experiment extracted RNA from the nervous system of snails that had been sensitized to danger through the administration of electric shocks. This RNA was then injected into snails that hadn't received the shock training. All of the recipient snails reacted to electrical stimuli in the same way as the trained snails, implying the memory had been transferred from snail to snail.
How platypus milk could help battle the global superbug threat
The platypus has long fascinated scientists, with its weirdly unique assortment of features making it one of the most unusual animals on the planet. Earlier this year, a team of Australian researchers discovered that platypus milk contains novel antimicrobial properties that could help scientists battle the global superbug threat.
A unique protein, never before isolated, was discovered in the milk that was found to have a novel ringlet-like formation and has since been called the "Shirley Temple" protein in reference to the famous child-actor's curly hair.
The mystery of the magical mummy juice
Earlier this year, a massive black granite sarcophagus was discovered in Egypt. Seemingly undisturbed for thousands of years, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities pried open the coffin, and found three skeletons inside. The skeletons were swimming in a mysterious red liquid that quickly captivated the internet.
People became increasingly obsessed with this mysterious mummy-juice, prompting the spread of a petition instigated by a foolhardy group determined to drink the magical elixir spread, assuming it would confer magical powers. When all was said and done, 35,000 people had signed the petition and scientists ultimately concluded the liquid in the sarcophagus was sewage that had seeped in through an apparent leak. Of course, those seeking the magical juice were then convinced the "sewage claims" were part of a conspiracy to keep the powerful drink a secret. This story is basically 2018 in microcosm.