Why Are There Boogers in My Nose?

chloe effron
chloe effron

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Boogers are a sign that your nose is working properly! The snot in your nose is called mucus (MYOO-cuss), but it's much more fun to call it boogers. Mucus is made up of 95 percent water, 3 percent mucin (that's what makes it slimy), and 2 percent other things, like proteins and salt. That's why snot can taste salty. But don't eat your boogers!

Your nose makes up to a quart of mucus each day—enough to fill a small ice cream container! Some days it will be more runny, like when you have a cold. When you are sick, your body makes more mucus to help keep you from getting even sicker. Those days, you might have to keep wiping your nose with a tissue. But other days the mucus stays in your nose and hardens into real boogers.

Mucus is there to protect your nose and your lungs. This slimy stuff keeps the inside of your noise moist so it doesn't dry out. It also traps the dirt, dust, and germs that you breathe in. That way they won't go all the way into your body and cause an infection or make it hard to breathe. Snot also has ingredients that fight off infection, like antibodies (AN-tee-bod-ees) and white blood cells. As the mucus catches dirt or germs, it will either turn hard or get really goopy as your nose tries to flush the bad stuff out of your body.

Sometimes your boogers are weird colors, like white, yellow, or green. Those colors can be caused by the things that can make you sick, like bacteria or a virus, or by the white blood cells fighting them off. So just think of your boogers as part of a slimy shield protecting you. Make sure to leave them in your nose until you find a tissue and a trash can where you can throw away all the germs the boogers collected.

To learn more about boogers and mucus, watch this video from Brit Lab.

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

iStock.com/stevanovicigor
iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb
iStock.com/ananaline

It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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