Building blocks

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The wombat is the only species in the world capable of organically producing cubes. Thanks to the varying elasticity of its intestinal walls, wombats poop cubes, which they then stack up to mark their territory and attract the attention of other wombats. How they produce droppings in this shape has long been a biological mystery, solved only when Patricia Yang, a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, studied the digestive tracts of roadkill wombats from Tasmania. Cubes are rare in the natural world. “We currently have only two methods to manufacture cubes: We mold it, or we cut it. Now we have this third method,” said Yang in a presentation of her research. “It would be a cool method to apply to the manufacturing process—how to make a cube with soft tissue instead of just molding it.”

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