May is National Mystery Month, and although the holiday is technically a commemoration of mystery novels and authors, we thought it might be fun to celebrate in a different way –– by highlighting some of the weirdest, whackiest, and most unusual science experiments and clinical studies to ever exist.
We humans are notoriously curious. And, that curiosity often presents itself in strange and unusual ways, particularly when it comes to scientific discovery. Though the following experiments might seem ‘outside the box,’ they contributed to some of the great scientific advances of the last 200 years.
1) Zolpidem’s Unusual Ability to Wake Comatose Patients
Zolpidem, best known by its brand name Ambien, was developed to treat insomnia. But since 1999, researchers have been investigating a potential second use –– helping comatose people temporarily return to consciousness.
The most recent research study, conducted in 2014, tried Zolpidem therapy in 84 vegetative and minimally conscious people. Scientists found the drug worked at least somewhat in up to 5% of patients, a breakthrough that could lead to even greater discoveries for coma treatment.
2) The Origin of Gastroenterology
You probably know that gastroenterology is a medical specialty that diagnoses and treats problems affecting the digestive system. What you might not know, is that the profession is just over 200 years old –– a mere baby in terms of health care.
Even stranger? The entire field evolved after frontiersman and trapper, Alexis St. Martin, was shot in the stomach with a musket ball. The year was 1822, and the wound was almost certainly fatal, but a local U.S. Army Surgeon, William Beaumont, refused to accept St. Martin’s fate.
The musket ball left a hole (fistula) in St. Martin’s stomach but slowly healed, giving Beaumont a first-hand look at the body’s digestive system and natural recovery process. St. Martin lived until the age of 78, while Beaumont became known as the father of gastric physiology.
3) What’s More Dangerous: Driving Drunk or Using the Phone While Driving?
Smartphones have made our lives infinitely more convenient, but a growing body of evidence suggests they also present serious safety risks, especially when behind the wheel.
In 2006, a study published in the journal Human Factors found that cellphone users were five times more likely to cause an accident, compared to undistracted drivers. Researchers also found cellphone users were more likely to crash in a driving simulator compared to both drunk and sober drivers.
Moral of the story: Put your phone away when driving.
4) A Successful Cure for C. Difficile Infection
Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a harmful bacteria found in some people’s gut. It doesn’t always present symptoms, but severe infections can cause serious problems, including toxic megacolon and debilitating diarrhea.
Veterinarians have treated severe diarrhea with fecal transplants since at least the 17th century, but the practice wasn’t used in Western medicine until the mid-20th Century.
In 1958, a group of doctors collected a stool sample from a healthy human donor and transferred it to the colon of a patient with C. difficile. The experiment resulted in a complete cure offering an effective and minimally invasive treatment.
5) Making Out…For Science!
In 2013, a team of researchers in Slovakia designed an experiment to answer a rather unusual question –– Could DNA leftover from kissing be used to solve crimes?
During the experiment, the scientists asked 12 couples to kiss passionately for at least two minutes. Then, the researchers tested the women’s saliva for male DNA at 5, 10, 30, and 60 minutes later.
Small traces of male DNA could be found in the women’s mouths up to an hour later, suggesting that collecting saliva could be useful in certain criminal investigations.
Sometimes, the greatest discoveries require thinking outside the box. We hope this article inspires your sense of curiosity and wonder.