NOVA: Gross Science Collection

NOVA: Gross Science Collection


Why do we smell different when we’re sick? Why does cheese smell like feet? Why don’t vultures get sick from eating rotting meat?

Science is filled with stories: some of them are beautiful and some of them are gross. Really gross. Gross Science, a YouTube series hosted by Anna Rothschild, tells bizarre stories from the slimy, smelly, creepy world of science.

In this collection, you’ll find original short-form videos and DIY experiments from Gross Science, which is produced by NOVA and PBS Digital Studios. Learn about amphibians that eat their mother’s skin, strange uses for bacon, how poop can be used to cure an infection, and more gross science topics.

  • Gross Science | An Internet Made of Fungus

    Learn how plants communicate with one another, in this video from NOVA’s Gross Science series. Some plants communicate via the Wood Wide Web—an underground network of mycorrhizal fungi, which grow on the roots of plants. The plants provide the fungi with sugars while the fungi provide the plants with water and nutrients. Fungal networks connect many plants together, allowing for signals to be transported throughout entire forests. This type of network can provide nutrients to struggling plants and alert neighboring plants of threats. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Gross Science | Can Bird Poop Make Clouds?

    Learn how bird poop can contribute to cloud formation, in this video from NOVA’s Gross Science series. Clouds form when water vapor cools in the atmosphere and attaches to condensation nuclei. Condensation nuclei can be made from dust particles, ice crystals, specks of pollution, and even fungal spores. Bacteria that feed on bird poop release ammonia that form condensation nuclei when mixed with sulfuric acid, water, and other molecules in the air. Because bright clouds reflect sunlight, bird poop may play an important role in Earth’s climate. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Defensive Vomiting

    Learn how some animals use defensive vomiting to scare off predators, in this video from NOVA’s Gross Science series. European Roller chicks spew a smelly orange vomit when touched, deterring predators and alerting parents approaching their nest that a predator might be nearby. Fulmars—a type of seabird—can shoot a stream of yellow stomach oil to a distance of six feet. The oil can lead to the death of the predator by hindering it from flying or swimming. Camels are also famous for spitting saliva and regurgitated stomach contents. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Electronics Powered by Fish Scales

    Learn how fish scales can generate electricity, in this video from NOVA’s Gross Science series. Fish scales are made of collagen, a piezoelectric material. Piezoelectric materials generate electric charge in response to mechanical stress. Physicists have developed a way to turn fish scales into biodegradable nanogenerators. The devices harvest energy from movements and convert it into electrical energy. Potential applications for this type of generator include flexible electronics, edible electronics, and biocompatible insulin pumps or pacemakers. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Gross Science | Four Deadly Carnivorous Plants

    Learn about four types of carnivorous plants, in this video from NOVA’s Gross Science series. Plants require sunlight, water, air, and mineral nutrients to survive. Most carnivorous plants live in environments that have low levels of vital nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, the building blocks of DNA and proteins. These plants have developed adaptations that allow them to survive in nutrient-poor conditions by drawing nutrients from such prey as insects, crustaceans, and even small mammals. Carnivorous plants have evolved all around the world, and several different types of trapping mechanisms exist. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Watch Vanessa Hill's video, A Venus Flytrap Works Just Like Your Brain to learn how humans are similar to plants.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Is Fear Contagious?

    Learn how fear may be contagious, in the video from NOVA’s Gross Science series. Animals give off bodily secretions called pheromones that can communicate information, such as potential threats, to other members of the same species. Similarly, humans release chemosignals in sweat when they are scared or stressed. Studies have shown that chemosignals in human sweat may transmit information about emotion to people who smell them. In addition, humans tend to mimic the feelings of people around them in a form of emotional contagion, spreading positive or negative emotions in a group. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | The Food Poisoning Lurking in Your Freezer

    Learn about listeria, a type of bacteria that causes food poisoning, in this video from NOVA’s Gross Science series. Listeriosis is a serious disease that can kill up to 20 percent of people infected. Listeria grows on food and is tough enough to survive and even reproduce in cold refrigerators. When food contaminated with listeria is consumed, the body’s immune system recognizes the bacteria as a danger and mounts an immune response. White blood cells engulf the bacteria in phagosomes; however, listeria can escape this initial immune response by hijacking the cell’s cytoskeleton to move inside the cell, where it collects nutrients and reproduces. Eventually, the bacteria burst from the cell to infect other cells; the infection can become deadly as it spreads through the bloodstream to major organs. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Gross Science | The Real Rudolph Has Bloody Antlers and Super Vision

    Learn about reindeer, in this video from NOVA’s Gross Science series. When reindeer antlers begin growing, they are soft and covered in a thin layer of skin called velvet. The velvet transports oxygen and nutrients to help the antlers grow quickly. However, when the antlers harden, the velvet is shed. The process of removing the velvet gives the antlers a bloody appearance. Reindeer also have adaptations, such as the ability to see UV light, that help them live in snowy areas. UV vision allows reindeer to find food and spot signs of predators in the snow-covered landscape. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Gross Science | What Really Causes Sunburns?

    Learn about the cause of sunburns, in this video from NOVA’s Gross Science series. Sunlight is made up of many types of radiation: infrared, visible, and ultraviolet (UV). UV radiation can damage skin cells by causing mutations in DNA. Skin cells naturally produce melanin, which absorbs UV light and acts as a natural sunscreen. Exposure to sunlight can trigger the production of more melanin, which is why skin becomes darker (tanned). However, UV radiation can penetrate the body’s natural defenses and damage DNA in skin cells. An inflammatory response to repair the damage causes redness and peeling skin—a sunburn. Damaged skin cells can develop into cancerous cells. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Gross Science | What Sound Does an Ant Make?

    Learn about a type of parasitic beetle that mimics ants, in this video from NOVA’s Gross Science series. Ants communicate using chemical signals called pheromones and specialized chirping sounds. However, one species of a parasitic beetle has learned how to blend into an ant colony by using chemicals to disguise its smell and by mimicking the ants’ language. This is an example of aggressive mimicry, where a predator or parasite resembles a more harmless organism to avoid detection from prey. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Why Don’t Vultures Get Food Poisoning?

    Learn how vultures eat rotting meat without getting sick, in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. Vultures are meat-eating scavengers; instead of hunting prey, they wait for carcasses left behind from other hunters. Their incredibly acidic stomachs help kill the pathogens in the rotting meat. Additionally, the intestines of vultures are colonized by species of bacteria that are related to disease-causing ones typically found on rotting meat, which gives vultures a natural tolerance to the bacteria. However, vultures aren’t immune to everything. Certain medications given to livestock are poisonous to vultures. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | How Far Do Sneezes and Vomit Travel?

    Learn how far coughs, sneezes, and vomit travel, in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. Scientists can use technology to track the liquids that fly out of noses and mouths and study how far germs can travel. Researchers at MIT used high-speed cameras to reveal that the droplets in a cough or sneeze travel in an invisible gas cloud, which can carry germs much farther than people previously thought. Researchers use robots to simulate the act of puking to study the spread of norovirus. One episode of projectile vomiting can contaminate close to 84 square feet, and virus particles can also be suspended in the air. This research reveals that germs are easily spread and may linger in places that appear to be clean. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Would You Wear Clothes Made from Slime?

    Learn how hagfish slime could be used to make clothing, in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. Hagfish are eel-like creatures that release slime when attacked. The slime is composed of mucus and threadlike fibers made of proteins, which clog the mouths and gills of assailants, making them unable to breathe. Hagfish slime fibers are like super-strong silk. Scientists think that if they can genetically engineer organisms to produce similar fibers, it could be an eco-friendly, high-performance clothing material of the future. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Sea Cucumber Evisceration

    Learn how sea cucumbers eject and regenerate parts of their internal organs, in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. Sea cucumbers are marine animals that can undergo a form of autotomy called evisceration—a sea cucumber can shoot out its internal organs. After evisceration, sea cucumbers regenerate their lost organs through dedifferentiation: certain cells stop performing their current function and become capable of other functions. If scientists could figure out how sea cucumbers dedifferentiate their cells, they could potentially stimulate human cells to regrow lost limbs or heal spinal injuries. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Check out Connections within Support Materials for the links referenced in the video.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Recycling Poop

    Learn how poop can be recycled to produce fertilizer, heat, and electricity, in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. At Jordan Dairy Farms in Massachusetts, poop is collected from cows to power and fertilize the farm. Animal poop contains microorganisms that produce an energy-filled gas called methane. On the farm, manure is pumped to a giant tank called an anaerobic digester, where the methane gets funneled into an electricity-producing engine. Methane is used to produce electricity, and the leftover digestate is used to make fertilizer. Human sewage can also be treated in huge anaerobic digesters, such as those at the Deer Island Treatment Plant, to produce heat, electricity, and fertilizer. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Can Poop Cure an Infection?

    Learn how fecal transplants are an effective treatment for Clostridium difficile colitis, in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. Inside every person’s digestive tract are trillions of bacteria and other microbes that make up the gut microbiome. These microbial communities perform essential functions like producing molecules that your colon cells need to survive, and extracting nutrients from your food. However, when something upsets the balance of the microbes in the gut, bacteria such as C. difficile can flourish out of control, and deadly inflammations can occur. Doctors can reset the microbial balance using a fecal transplant: They place a healthy donor's fecal matter into the patient's gut to recolonize microbes and out-compete the disease-causing bacteria. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Could We Rid the World of Mosquitoes?

    Learn about the pros and cons of eradicating mosquitoes, in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. Mosquitoes can transmit many diseases, including the Zika virus, which is correlated with birth defects in babies. Genetic technology, such as the CRISPR gene drive, has the potential to keep mosquitoes from spreading disease. With the CRISPR gene drive, scientists can easily insert genes into organisms that could keep mosquitoes from transmitting a certain disease or that could ensure that all baby mosquitoes are born male, which in time would effectively wipe out the population. This powerful tool has the ability to rapidly change whole populations of fast-breeding creatures in the wild, but it brings up many ethical questions. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Check out Connections within Support Materials for the links referenced in the video.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Could Kangaroo Farts Curb Global Warming?

    Learn how kangaroo gut microbiomes could curb global warming, in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, are gases in our atmosphere that trap heat. In moderation, greenhouse gases are vital to life on Earth. However, when the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are too high, the planet warms dangerously. Cows release a lot of methane through their burps, farts, and manure. Kangaroos have a plant-based diet like cows but they release much less methane because they have different microbes in their guts. If researchers can figure out how to make cow guts more like kangaroo guts, they could help curb global warming. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | How to Make Glow-in-the-Dark Slime

    Learn how to make glow-in-the-dark slime with household items, in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. You will need hot water, borax, glow-in-the-dark paint, and school glue. School glue is made of a polymer called polyvinyl acetate, which makes the glue thick and viscous. Adding borax makes the glue even thicker. The phosphors in the paint emit photons over time, creating the lingering glow. To make slime, first vigorously mix half a cup of glue and two tablespoons of paint with two-thirds of a cup of hot water. In a separate bowl, dissolve two teaspoons of borax in one-third of a cup of hot water. Finally, add two tablespoons of the borax solution to the glue solution. To see the slime glow in the dark, charge it by holding it under a light. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Caution: Touching borax is okay, but keep it away from your eyes, mouth, and open cuts. Wash your hands after use.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gross Science | Why Do You Always Get Sick After Final Exams?

    Learn why students tend to get sick after final exams, in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. Research has shown that people who slept an average of less than seven hours a night in the weeks leading up to an exam were almost three times more likely to get sick. Stress can also have a huge effect on our health, lowering the activity of cells that help fight viruses. In addition, traveling right after exams can result in contact with many different pathogens. In all likelihood, a post-exam cold probably comes from a combination of these factors—plus others like poor diet, lack of exercise, and the time it takes a particular pathogen to start replicating. This resource is part of the NOVA: Gross Science Collection.

    Grades: 6-12

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