2016 was a big year in many ways: The Cubs won the World Series after a drought spanning more than a century, SpaceX landed a rocket on a barge in the middle of the ocean, Matt Damon ate a lot of potatoes (and I mean a lot) but the most startling news came from the world of organ politics, where the Mesentery was voted in as the newest human organ.
According to a press release from the Department of Keeping Tabs On Electing New Organs To Membership in the Human Body:
“The Mesentery came out of nowhere in the primaries last summer, to become the darling of the Undiscovered Endocrine Organ party and then continued on to startle the world in November by defeating Undiscovered Exocrine Organ party candidate, the Nasal Mucosa, considered by many to be the odds-on favorite in the thrilling race to be the newest human organ.”
The picture on the right, which appears to be some kind of inter-dimensional spacetime portal is actually a picture of the inside of someone’s nostril. The owner might be a professional Nostril Model, since that is quite a fetching tract of nasal mucosa if you ask me. The thing on the left is a drawing of one of the three Mesenteries which all of us, professional Mesentery Models included, carry around inside our abdomens at all times. In that drawing, the Mesentery is the yellow membrane fanning out to attach to the pink knobbly thing, which happens to be a sigmoid colon. So this particular Mesentery is a Sigmoid Mesocolon Mesentery.
Right? Repeat after me: “Anatomy is easy!”
The Mesenteries are layered membranes which perform a lot of functions including anchoring, secreting, storing and supplying. That sounds like a pretty full dance card for any tissue, especially one that has just achieved organhood.
By the way, organhood is not a word. Google was pretty definite on this point, asking me if instead I was looking for: 1) orphanhood, 2) Organ Mood, 3) organoid or 4) organ food. A couple of these options need further explanation.
Option Two: Organ Mood is the name that a couple of really avant-garde guys from Quebec named Mathieu Jacques and Christophe Lamarche gave to themselves when they decided to create live audiovisual performances in which the audience could also participate.
Here they are (well, one of them anyway), hard at work creating a live audiovisual performance:
I guess you probably need to be there to fully appreciate this.
Option Three: An organoid is a great name for what you get when you try to grow a little three-dimensional baby organ in a Petri dish, starting with a few stem cells. It could also be a great name for a planet:
Organoid Alien: “We are from the planet Organoid. We have come here to listen to some of your avant-garde music. Which way is Quebec?”
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the Mesentery. So like I said, the Mesenteries (all three of them) have a lot on their plates , keeping busy all day anchoring some of the intestines to the back wall of the abdominal cavity, secreting mucus to help some of the other intestines slip and slide past each other as they digest our food, storing fat and last-but-not-least, providing a scaffold for the blood and lymphatic vessels to travel to and from the intestines. Busy, huh? But like I always say: “If you want to get a bunch of metabolic functions performed, ask a busy collection of cells to do it.”
Below we have Dr. J. Calvin Coffey, a researcher at University Hospital in Limerick, Ireland, holding up something that looks like it might be a mesentery.
Based on research he conducted over several years, Dr. Coffey laid out his arguments in favor of elevating the mesentery to organ status in a November 2016 article in The Lancet, in case you’re interested.
Needless to say, this turn of events generated a storm of controversy and induced many prominent individuals including actress-cum-Kleenex spokesperson-cum-political commentator Meryl Streep to hold forth, denouncing the election results, as she received a lifetime achievement award at the recent Nasal Mucosa Awards.
She may have said something like the following (but don’t quote me):
“This just isn’t fair. No one appreciates the role that the Nasal Mucosa-all 384 square metres of it- plays in health and well-being. For example, everyone has heard of nitric oxide (NO for short) but how many of us realize that NO is actually a body-wide signaling molecule with roles in vasodilation, inhibition of platelet aggregation, prevention of neutrophil/platelet adhesion to endothelial cells, inhibition of smooth muscle cell proliferation and migration, regulation of programmed cell death (apoptosis) and maintenance of endothelial cell barrier function. NO generated by neurons acts as a neurotransmitter, whereas NO generated by macrophages in response to invading microbes acts as an antimicrobial agent.
If all that doesn’t make the Nasal Mucosa a great candidate for human organ status, I don’t know what will. I think the Mesentery should be impeached immediately. In fact I’m going to ask President-elect Donald Trump to intervene. After that I plan to rip out his Transverse Mesocolon Mesentery with the handle of a butter knife. Then I’m going to move to Sweden, or maybe Canada. If any country knows about the Nasal Mucosa, it’s Canada. I hear they get a lot of colds up there.”
Well maybe she didn’t say all that, but prominent researcher Marinella Rosselli did say some of it in her 1998 article entitled: “Role of nitric oxide in the biology, physiology and pathophysiology of reproduction.” If you don’t believe me you can check out her paper yourself.
It’s a great review article, as far as review articles go. I plan to read it as soon as I finish reading a charming children’s book by Rebecca Sampson, entitled: A Frocodile Ate My Socks, which once-and-for-all, solves the “universal phenomenon, mystifying laundry enthusiasts for decades – where are the socks going?” It received a five-star rating in a new book by Dave Barry.com: “Dave Barry’s Guide to Sorting Your Laundry.”
But clearly, I need to get back on track here. I just remembered that I forgot to explain exactly what an organ is, back at the beginning, so now is as good a time as any to do that, plus it will be a good way to wrap up this column. An organ is: “A grouping of tissues into a distinct structure, such as a heart or kidney in animals or a leaf or stamen in plants, that performs a specialized task.”
Most of us are no doubt familiar with common household organs including the following:
Kidneys: Shaped like kidney beans, these fist-sized organs do a lot of stuff like regulating the balance of sodium and potassium, activating Vitamin D and reminding you that they exist as you’re halfway up a long chairlift at the ski hill with a full bladder.
Thyroid: A butterfly-shaped organ in your neck responsible for regulating your metabolic rate but also responsible for generating literally hundreds of self-help medical books, many of them urging you to eat seaweed on a regular basis, and also to stand in a cold shower with the water playing directly on your throat.
Parathyroid glands: Four pea-sized glands which flank the thyroid gland, with their main purpose being to allow ENT surgeons to bill extra for taking them out when the thyroid needs to be removed secondary to hypothermia.
Adrenal glands: Two acorn-shaped glands about the size of small mice, which sit atop the kidneys, regulating just about everything including your political preference but also responsible for generating another several thousand self-help medical books urging you to meditate frequently and breathe through your nose (thereby generating copious amounts of NO).
Pancreas: Most of this elusive and independent organ about the size of a 6-inch long python, happily resides behind the peritoneum (so it doesn’t need a mesentery to anchor it, thank you very much). It helps regulate your blood sugar levels, so just remember that when you’re stranded on Mars eating a potato-based diet. (Actually, if you’re stranded on Mars, your pancreas is the last thing you need to worry about.)
I could go on, but I won’t. Instead I’ll leave you to ponder why I chose to describe all these organs in terms of various vegetables, animals, other human body parts, reptiles and insects. There must be a name for this particular literary device, but I don’t know what it is.
But at least now you know where to look if you’re missing some socks.
Next column: How to establish yourself as a successful Body-part Model (and also How to Live to be at least 100 years old)