Monday, November 17, 2008

Fake snot & real mucus

Well, it's cold and flu season again where I live. I can't quite shake this congestion in my sinuses, which has got me thinking about mucus. When referring to the secretions of the nose, mucus is just a fancy word for snot.

According to the article What's a Booger? at KidsHealth, "your nose and sinuses make about a quart of snot every day." This viscous (slippery) fluid coats the inside of your nose and helps to trap dirt and other foreign items -- like pollen, cat fur, and dust -- before they can reach and irritate your lungs.

Snot is a morbidly fascinating topic. Just thinking about it makes me squirm in my chair. And then I found this page from Glencoe that describes how some bacteria like to eat our snot. Eew. I never thought of a bacterial infection in that way before.

And if your own snot just isn't enough, ThinkQuest has a recipe for making fake snot. You can even add your own dirt to create dried up "boogers". Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine, of's Chemistry section, also has a recipe on How To Make Fake Snot. She writes that this green goo is "...great for Halloween and other occasions requiring snot."

Believe it or not, scientists also make fake snot! A research team from University of Warwick and Leicester University found that adding artificial snot to electronic noses helped the devices to detect more odors. Electronic noses can be used for things like quality control in a food processing plant. After adding the fake snot, the artificial nose in this study could detect the difference between the smell of milk and the odor of banana, something it couldn't do before. You can read about it in Warwick's article, Artificial Snot Enhances Electronic Nose.

Other scientists prefer real, old-fashioned snot. Check out this recent article, entitled Thar she blows: Snot offers clues to whale health from Catherine Brahic of New Scientist. Apparently, it's hard to get a blood sample from whales, so researchers have settled for the next-best thing: flying toy helicopters through exhaled "whale snot" to collect samples when these large animals surface and blow. Studying the "whale snot" gives researchers clues as to the overall health of the animals.

Yuck. I think I'm going to go and wash my hands now!

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