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Can Farting Contaminate Sterile Enviroments

"It all started with an enquiry from a nurse," Dr Karl

Kruszelnicki told listeners to his science phone-in show on

the Triple J radio station in Brisbane. "She wanted to know

whether she was contaminating the operating theatre she

worked in by quietly farting in the sterile environment

during operations, and I realised that I didn't know. But I

was determined to find out." Dr Kruszelnicki then described

the method by which he had established whether human flatus

was germ-laden, or merely malodorous. "I contacted Luke

Tennent, a microbiologist in Canberra, and together we

devised an experiment. He asked a colleague to break wind

directly onto two Petri dishes from a distance of five

centimetres, first fully clothed, then with his trousers

down. Then he observed what happened. Overnight, the second

Petri dish sprouted visible lumps of two types of bacteria

that are usually only found in the gut and on the skin. But

the flatus which had passed through clothing caused no

bacteria to sprout, which suggests that clothing acts as a

filter. "Our deduction is that the enteric zone in the

second Petri dish was caused by the flatus itself, and the

splatter ring around that was caused by the sheer velocity

of the fart, which blew skin bacteria from the cheeks and

blasted it onto the dish. It seems, therefore, that flatus

can cause infection if the emitter is naked, but not if he

or she is clothed. But the results of the experiment should

not be considered alarming, because neither type of

bacterium is harmful. In fact, they're similar to the

'friendly' bacteria found in yoghurt. "Our final

conclusion? Don't fart naked near food. Alright, it's not

rocket science. But then again, maybe it is?" (Canberra

Times, 17/7/01. Spotter: Michael Doyle)

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