Expert Medical Opinion

"It all started with an inquiry 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 theater she worked in by quietly farting in the sterile environment during operations, and I realized that I didn't know. But I was determined to find out."

To do this, he continued, "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 centimeters, 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."

So maybe your mom's admonition to "wear clean underwear" was right!

"Our deduction," Dr. Karl said, "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 yogurt."

OK, but we choose not to eat it, OK, Doc?

"Our final conclusion?" he said: "Don't fart naked near food. All right, it's not rocket science. But then again -- maybe it is."

But he didn't explicitly answer the nurse's question! So we will: Dear, you're fine, unless you give in to the doctor's suggestions that you assist him in the nude....

- - -

Yes, he's real: Wikipedia reports:

Karl Sven Woytek Sas Konkovitch Matthew Kruszelnicki, AM (born 1948 in Helsingborg, Sweden) is a scientist, who is best known as an author and science commentator on Australian radio and television. He is usually referred to as Karl Kruszelnicki or Dr Karl.

He holds degrees in mathematics, biomedical engineering, medicine and surgery. He has also studied astrophysics, computer science, and philosophy. He has worked as a physicist, labourer, roadie for bands, car mechanic, film-maker, hospital scientific officer, biomedical engineer, TV weatherman, taxi driver, and medical doctor.

Kruszelnicki is the Julius Sumner Miller Fellow in the Science Foundation for Physics at the School of Physics, University of Sydney.

Posted September 1, 2010

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