The Oxygen Molecule That Travelled Around the Body


Take a deep breath. Fill your lungs with air. One of these oxygen molecules is a particularly nomadic chap – he wants to travel to see the world of the body. Molecule has to adjust to the inner body temperature and adapt from outer environmental life. He remembers the old days – before the birth of modern body travel when he used to rely on the placenta and the umbilical cord to get around the bloodstream. Did you know that of al the organs of the body – the eye grows least ? By the time the body reaches adulthood, it has grown twenty times the size that it was at birth – other than the eye which is only three and three – quarters times bigger.

A Quick Quiz
1. How much skin do you have ?
a) 2 square metres
b) 20 square metres
c) 0.2 square metres

2. How many times does the heart beat per minute ?
a) 50-60
b) 80-100
c) 70-80

3. Where is the smallest bone in the body ?
a) in the hand
b) in the ear
c) in the spine

4. How long is a heart beat ?
a) 1 minute
b) 1 second
c) 1 hour

5. How many bones are there in the human body ?
a) 106
b) 156
c) 206

After gaseous exchange in the tiny alveoli – out he pops into the bloodstream. Cough, to clear your airways and excrete waste carbon monoxide. The starting gun on this round the body expedition is the respiratory centre of the medulla in the brain that controls breathing. The trigger blows – “Go”, medulla calls, by electrical impulses, despite the other sensory stimuli distracting the molecule – touch, light and noise. The molecule hitches a lift on a red blood cell – only too happy to be oxygenated – up the pulmonary artery to the heart to be pumped and jet propelled further. He bobsleighs through the arteries … burdum, burdum, burdum … the heart beats 60 times a minute. Body must have started exercising (doing some usual activity like climbing the stairs) because he senses the heart racing and picking up speed.

CRASH ! BANG ! WALLOP ! A infectious battle breaks out – with true inflammation, the body explodes into red spots, boils and a rash. The dispute is over a colony of micro – organisms. Certain other cells search for asylum immunity. Molecule can hardly pronounce the names of the Generals of the foreign body army – Staphloocci, Streptococci and E Coli. Politicians sweat out the infection feverously. Some white cells help fight off invading bacteria and Molecule celebrates a victorious win with all the other antibodies. The capillaries – the smallest vessel of the cardio-vascular system – are a bit of a squeeze especially as the molecule is diffused around the cells. Then it’s back uphill through the veins to the lungs – home territory. He has to dodge by blood clots to avoid deep vein thrombosis and some of the veins are a bit varicose, making this part of the trip a bit wobbly and winding.

A Quick Quiz
6. Where are the radius and ulna ?
a) in the arm
b) in the spine
c) in the leg

7. How many teeth are in the first milk set ?
a) 2
b) 12
c) 20

8. What percentage of the body is made up of muscle ?
a) 40 %
b) 14%
c) 4%

9. Which direction does arterial blood flow ?
a) from the heart to the brain
b) from the heart to the body
c) from the body to the heart

10. Which hormone gives males their masculine appearance ?
a) progesterone
b) oestrogen
c) testosterone


you are here …

Usually the nervous system is out of bounds to oxygen molecules but the author books him a ticket the on the autonomic axons just to see that part of the body too. Molecule cleverly skirts around the hemispheres of the brain in central spinal fluid and dives in the waterfall of the spinal cord. The reflex action is quite a fete to see. Wow !!, he marvels at the neuromuscular development. He rests on parts of the lumbar spine and throws a spinal disc in the Olympic Games of the Body. Then molecule takes a tour on a Motor System Coach Car – parts of the body control by the muscles, ligaments and tendons – “Hold on Tight !” he thinks to himself. Had he taken a different route, he would have been sucked and swallowed. If his mission had started in the mouth, Molecule imagines what the trip would have been like – suitably absorbed and excreted.

What a lot of gushy saliva he would have had to swim through. He hears that the pancreas, liver and gallstones are quite organs to behold so off he sets, down the oesophagus towards the stomach. There is a storm in this part of the body. Gastric rain drops make it quite a digestive trip but other particles – like food – seem to cope with the rapids alright. Burps thunder and his voyage is disrupted by air turbulent flatulence. A little further on, bubbling intestinal juices roared. Molecule was getting somewhat lonesome on his travels. He looked in the Lonely Hearts column of the local “Anatomy & Physiology” newspaper to see what other similar molecules he could find – chromosomes (sure to be genetically matched), proteins (very energetic partners, he heard on the body’s bloodstream), spermatozoa (great swimming partners), electrolytes (for a truly chemical match), germ cells (1.5 million to chose from at birth) or hormones (to meet in the pituitary glands of the endocrine system).
Other infectious bacteria seemed less attractive to molecule – Rubella, Hepatitis B Antigens and Human Immune Deficiency Viruses all filled Molecule with fear and dread at the thought of having to spend a night in the body with. One ovum of the reproductive system seemed particularly friendly when he telephoned her so off he headed in the direction of the reproductive system to meet up with what he hoped would be his sole – mate and one true love. First, Molecule called home through the trumpet – shaped infundibulum before setting off on the “Fallopian Tube” in the direction of the adjacent ampulla – which was the usual meeting place for the oocyte and spermatozoa. This section of the reproductive system contained the largest concentration of muscle fibres who brushed along each other and carried the ovum a little further towards molecule on their romantic date.

A Quick Quiz
11. What is the common name for the clavicle ?
a) collar bone
b) spinal column
c) skull

12. A baby starts life with how many bones ?
a) 30
b) 3 000
c) 300

13. What is the largest organ of the central nervous system ?
a) the spinal chord
b) the brain
c) the hypothalmus

14. What is the largest organ of the respiratory system ?
a) the liver
b) the lungs
c) the heart

15. What is the epidermis ?
a) the inner chamber of the heart
b) part of the brain that controls temperature
c) the outer layer of skin

The health club where most couples hoping to fertilise met up was the called the “Uterine Cavity”, so hand in hand oocyte, spermatozoa and oxygen molecule had to battle their way through 2-4 million other spermatozoa in order to eventually settle down to implant in their pad together. To the sound of the skeletal system, the molecule shake, rattled and rolled with all the best bones. “I’ll be working my way back to you, babe” was playing on the jukebox as oocyte, spermatozoa and oxygen molecule developed. So wherever you are in the world today…and you need to meet up with other oxygen molecules … look at the brightest star and so will I too

A Quick Quiz
16. What type of joint is the hip ?
a) ball and socket
b) hinge
c) column

17. How many eggs are in a female baby’s ovary at birth ?
a) millions
b) thousands
c) billions

18. What is produced by white cells to fight infection ?
a) antibodies
b) red cells
c) lymph

19. What attaches the baby to the
placenta ?
a) the fallopian tube
b) the amniotic sac
c) the umbilicus

20. The are two types of sex chromosome. Males have one X and one Y – what do females have ?
a) two Y chromosomes
b) two X chromosomes
c) two X and one Y chromosome

Oxygen Molecule Crumpets
1/2 oz fresh yeast
5 teaspoons lukewarm water
4oz plain flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons of milk
1 egg
2 1/2 oz butter cut into 1 inch bits

Sprinkle yeast over 5 teaspoons of lukewarm water and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the yeast completely and allow to dissolve until the yeast bubbles up and the mixture almost doubles in volume. Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture and the milk and drop in to the egg. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon then add 1/2 oz of the butter and beat until a soft smooth batter is formed. Put the butter into a pan and slowly let it brown. Grease the griddle and put in crumpet rings. Place in a moderate heat and allow the crumpets to cook until they bubble. Turn with a fish slice and cook for a further 10 minutes.

© Jacqueline Richards 2005


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