What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word mucus? For most people, it’s probably the last time they had a cold. Mucus is not usually something we think about unless there’s a problem. However, it is always there, working behind the scenes to make sure that our bodies function smoothly. Mucus lines the digestive, respiratory, and reproductive systems, covering a surface area of about 400 square meters- about 200 times more area than is covered by skin. In addition to providing lubrication and keeping the underlying tissue hydrated, mucus also plays a key role the human immune system. It serves as a selectively permeable membrane that protects against unwanted pathogens while also helping to support and control the body’s microbiome.
In the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage, a submarine and its crew shrink to the size of a microbe in order to travel into the body of an escaped Soviet scientist and remove a blood clot in his brain. The film gave viewers a glimpse into a possible future where doctors could treat patients by going directly to the source of the problem instead of being limited by the inaccessibility of most parts of the human body. This dream of a tiny submarine that can be piloted through the human body to deliver medical care remains, even 50 years later, in the realm of science fiction. However, Miskin and coworkers at Cornell University have brought us one step closer to making this a reality with their recent development of autonomous microscale machines.
The skeleton is the backbone of the body, both literally and figuratively. Healthy bones protect soft organs from injury and enable the body to move. Starting from childhood, staying active and following a healthy diet helps the body maintain healthy bones. However, as people age, their bones can start to weaken. There are often no early symptoms to weakening bones, and as a result the first indication of a problem may be a painful break once the weakening has already significantly progressed.