Your Saturday Nerdout: The World Now Has A Vomiting Robot. Thanks, Science!

Do not taunt Pukebot 3000

It's Saturday, and you know what that means: Nerding Time. And because nothing's nerdier than giggling about bodily fluids like a bunch of 5th-graders, we knew what our Lead Nerd Story had to be:

I, Pukebot

Researchers at North Carolina State University have built a machine that accurately simulates the backwards flow of the human digestive system, and they're using it to research whether the highly contagious, extremely unpleasant sick-making Norovirus can be spread through aerosolized upchuck. Bad news: as they suspected, yeah, probably, according to results published in the journal PLoS ONE this week. Wired's Sarah Zhang gives us the nasty details in an easily-digested summary:

Norovirus causes 20 million cases of food poisoning in the US every year—usually on cruises and other confined spaces with cafeterias. The virus is highly contagious. Epidemiologists have long suspected that barfing sends the virus airborne [...]

Thank god it follows the 3 laws of VomitBotics

The NC State researchers spent two years building and then testing a miniature version of the upper digestive tract—essentially a tube (esophagus) connected to a pressurized chamber (stomach). Then they mixed together fake saliva, fake vomit aka vanilla pudding, and a real virus. Norovirus itself is too dangerous to work with, so they used a bacteriophage harmless to humans called MS2. The machine heaved this mixture into a chamber, and a device vacuumed out any aerosolized particles for analysis.

Findings: A single episode of hurling can aerosolize "as many as 13,000 virus particles. And it only takes 20 to 1,300 virus particles to get someone sick." So Wayne and Garth were right, it turns out:

Garth: Oh my God, Wayne. I -- I think I'm gonna HURL.

Wayne: Now, Garth, if you hurl, then I'm gonna spew. And if I spew, chances are someone else is gonna honk, all right? And if that happens it could set off a peristaltic chain reaction.

Downside: Given the right's penchant for hating science and proclaiming that all research budgets must be cut forever, some bright kid at the Heritage Foundation might turn the Pukebot into 2015's version of the Shrimp Treadmill.

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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