It is a simple fact of life that all animals must consume some form of food in order to survive. Some eat it, many drink it, some absorb it but all require it. Most have evolved complex digestive systems to extract the maximum amount of nutrition from their preferred fuel supply. Enzymes break it down, stomach acids dissolve it and chemical processes convert it into the very building blocks of life itself.
Excrement, feces, dung, droppings or poo. There are several other words we could use to describe it, call it what you like. The waste products that animals, including us humans, excrete are an inescapable part of life.
The sheer quantity produced around the globe each day beggars belief and entire ecosystems depend on it. The fertilising properties of poo have long been known and have been harnessed by man almost since the dawn of agriculture.
Animal excrement is widely used across Ireland to this day to fertilise land and farmers generally use yet another word to describe it, slurry. Biologist Terry Flanagan visited North County Dublin-based farmer Laurence Ward to learn more about this "brown gold".
Palaeobiologist Dr. Patrick Orr of University College Dublin gives an insight into the scientific and biological perspective of poo, as it has been around for millions upon millions of years. Most poo disappears fairly quickly, however, Nigel Monaghan, Curator of the Natural History Museum in Dublin reveals more about the history it.
Not all poops are created equal, as excrement differs from species to species. Biologists regularly examine animal droppings so that they can identify the different species that live in a particular area, which makes sense.
After all, poo tends to stay put long after the creature responsible for its creation has moved on. Paolo Viscardi, zoology curator at The Natural History Museum explains more.
Tara Adcock, an ornithologist working with BirdWatch Ireland on marine bird conservation, near Howth in County Dublin educates us on an important seabird breeding colony on the island of Ireland's Eye.
Humans may have recognised the value of poo for the last few centuries, but it has been extremely important to plants for much longer than that. It's been popular for gardeners as well as plants especially vegetables thrive on this substance rotting into the plants. Dr. Matthew Jebb, Director of the National Botanical Gardens gives Terry an insight into this garden super-drug.
If you have to poop, why not use that poop to your own advantage? Excrement can tell a story, and lots of animal species use it as a means of communication. Many have even evolved a special anal gland to help the process along and to make their messages as clear as possible.
Unsavory though it may sound, the smell of an animal’s droppings can also be of great help to vets in diagnosing gastric problems or infections, especially if the animal in question is suffering from diarrhea. Veterinary surgeon Joe Nealon from County Meath gets to the "bottom" of this.
Paul O’Toole is Professor of Genomics in University College Cork. He has spent many years studying the effects of bacteria in the human gut and in particular their effects on specific diseases. One of the latest procedures being undertaken is the transfer of human feces from one person to another in order to replace beneficial gut bacteria that may have been lost or which the recipient somehow never acquired in the first place.