Santa Claus is comin’ to town! While Santa is encouraging snot-nosed children to sit on his lap and share with him their wish list, I guarantee he will be bringing Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. But if Santa came to visit me this holiday, he may also find a bit of humiliating mucus running down my nose as that pesky ‘cold’ has found its way to my body over the Christmas holiday break once more as it does every year. However, as Santa gives me a mortified look, I will gladly share with him my knowledge of the superhero inside all of our bodies known as “mucus.” So grab a cookie Santa and sit down, this may take a few minutes, but it’s worth your time.
Mucus can be found all over our bodies both inside and out. While it is often viewed as a disgusting waste product, it is actually a crucial part of human survival. Mucus is made of a dense network of polymers and sugars which create molecules known as ‘mucins.’ If you zoom in up close to individual mucus molecules it looks like a messy spider web. Our body produces more than a liter of mucus each day, not to mention when you are sick like me and produce even more than that! Some of the amazing functions of mucus within our own bodies include protection from various pathogens, aid in the digestion of food, smelling, tasting, and even assists our lungs in breathing.
Our body’s mucus is able to trap pathogens inside of it’s dense network of mucins. Pathogens are microorganisms (like bacteria or viruses) that could invade our bodies and cause us harm. Pathogens become really harmful when they are able to communicate with one another and spread throughout our bodies. Mucus traps these pathogens and prevents them from communicating, and thus the harmful particles are not able to spread. Is it any wonder we have so much mucus around our nose, eyes, and mouth? That is where pathogens can enter our bodies so we need lots of mucus in those places to act as a first line of defense.
Currently, there is some amazing research going on with mucus. Scientists are discovering ways to use mucus to diagnose various diseases within the human body. Mucus has physical properties that change based on certain illness or disease that one may be suffering from. If doctors could just swab a patient’s mucus to diagnose diseases without actually entering the human body, that would be a lot safer for the patients and would save them (both doctor and patient) a lot of time and money.
Dear Santa, do not judge a child by their mucus. That is simply their body functioning healthily and protecting against those pesky pathogens. Mucus is the unsung hero within us all. But yes, keep that hand sanitizer handy this time of year, even though mucus is good, the common cold can be a miserable experience.
THANK YOU for reading! Please comment below and let me know how I am doing to help you see your world through the intriguing lens of science.
**For more information on mucus and current research surrounding mucus, visit the following sites: