A pair of boffins are in hot water after the image of president Donald Trump made an unexpected cameo in a paper on how to gather animal DNA from their poop at scale.
The paper, which was published in Scientific Reports, discusses the difficulties of gaining high-quality DNA samples from wild animals in a non-invasive way.
Faeces is the obvious option, but it is dominated by DNA from other organisms, such as bacteria – so the authors proposed a way to enrich the desired animal's DNA from the sample.
However, the pair also buried an Easter egg in a figure depicting the method, which shows a baboon sitting next to an average-sized turd. And on that turd, is a tiny image of the leader of the free world.
This way is easier: pic.twitter.com/OASlEtgyBE— Jaime de Juan-Sanz (@JaimedeJuan) December 13, 2018
Here's a close-up of the image in question:
The paper was published back in January, so the authors – Christina Berge and Kenny Chiou of Penn State and Washington University respectively – got away with the gag for some time. Indeed, some questioned why it hadn't been spotted in peer review.
Oh come on! That's why we have three reviewers. That's the job of the Turd Reviewer!— ꜱᴡᴀᴘɴɪʟ ಠ_ಠ ʙʜᴀᴛɪᴀ (@synbiocs) December 14, 2018
For the most part, the Twitterati expressed glee at the ingenuity of the prankster scientists – but some did complain that it was unethical and immature to put the president's face on a poo in respected journal.
However, now the cheeky turd has been spotted, the journal's editors are on the case.
"The editors have become aware of unusual aspects to the 'Extract fecal DNA' illustration in figure 1. We are investigating, and appropriate editorial action will be taken once the matter is resolved," a note said.
UC Davis academic Jonathan Eisen, one of the Twitter users who first posted about the Easter egg, saved the paper for posterity on Dropbox, just in case the powers that be make some edits. ®