CV: “I remember being a teenage kid and, literally lying awake at night and worrying, ‘You know, I’m made out of meat. I can digest meat. Cannibals could eat me, and somehow I’m not digesting myself from the inside out. You know, why don’t I wake up in the morning with a honking, great hole that I’ve digested into myself?'”
So how come our stomach acids don’t just digest us? UC Merced engineer Christopher Viney remains fascinated by the substance that protects us from such a fate. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. We caught up with professor Viney at the San Diego zoo.
CV: “The reason we do not digest ourselves is because of a mucus lining in our stomachs and in our intestines, and that protects us from our own digestive enzymes. Well, that’s one reason mucus is important for digestion. Another reason it’s important is in respiration. You know, when you’ve got a bad cold, and you cough and this-well, you know, phlegm comes up. Well, that’s-that’s mucus, which has got all kinds of things trapped in it. Mucus acts as a trap for particles, for viruses, for bacteria, and it’s a way of then transporting these out of the lungs so that we can dispose of them, I guess, safely. A third reason that mucus is important is in reproduction, and, well, you know, I have got up in front of a class of teenagers on Valentine’s Day and told them that the only reason we are there having the conversation is because a certain number of years ago a little sperm cell had to swim though mucus to get to its target, and if the mucus was too thick and sticky, well, fertilization and conception couldn’t have happened. So, we really are here because of mucus.”
Christopher Viney studies the many properties of mucus in the natural world, in hopes of synthesizing it to solve problems of our everyday lives. Christopher is one of the participants in the Kids’ Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for third to sixth graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. A new season launches October first at kidsciencechallenge.com.
I’m Jim Metzner.