Do you have any idea how many emergencies are resolved inside your body every day without your conscious knowledge or control?  Here are just 3 examples.

Sugar cops:  The surfaces of many body cells are covered with what look like a thin forest, where the trees are sugar molecules.  A recent article on PhysOrg explained how this is a frontier of biology: “The “glycome”—the full set of sugar molecules in living things and even viruses—has been one of the least understood domains of biology, the article said, but the glycome “encodes key information that regulates things such as cell trafficking events and cell signaling.”  Largely independent of the genetic code, which builds proteins, the glycome represents another kind of code or signalling system vital to health.

Tissue graveyard:  When epithelial cells (common in body tissues) die, how are they disposed of?  A kind of burial at sea takes place automatically as neighboring cells squeeze out the bad cell, Current Biology said (Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 11, R453-R455, 5 June 2012, 10.1016/j.cub.2012.04.036).  It’s called “crowding-induced live cell extrusion.”  This is important because “To maintain a functional and harmonious epithelial society, the number and quality of cells need to be tightly controlled,” Katoh and Fujita emphasized.

Immigration policy:  “We are not alone,” Michael Balter wrote, but he was not discussing SETI or aliens, he was introducing a special feature in Science last week about the “microbiome,” the set of microbes that travel with us everywhere we go.  “Our bodies, inside and out, are teeming with trillions of microbes. Most of them are our friends, helping us to digest food, strengthen our immune systems, and keep dangerous enemy pathogens from invading our tissues and organs.”  Needless to say, if our own cells did not keep tight regulation of these alien cells, we would be in constant danger.  In his introductory article (Science 8 June 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6086 pp. 1246–1247, DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6086.1246), Balter wrote, “Evidence is building that this resident community of microbes, called the microbiome, plays a major role in health and disease.”….

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