Note (12/2015): Hi there! I'm taking some time off here to focus on other projects for a bit. As of October 2016, those other projects include a science book series for kids titled Things That Make You Go Yuck! -- available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and (hopefully) a bookstore near you!

Co-author Jenn Dlugos and I are also doing some extremely ridiculous things over at Drinkstorm Studios, including our award-winning webseries, Magicland.

There are also a full 100 posts right here in the archives, and feel free to drop me a line at with comments, suggestions or wacky cold fusion ideas. Cheers!

· Categories: Biology
What I’ve Learned:

Adaptive immunity (at Chuck E. Disease's)
“Don’t make the dendritic cell angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.”

There’s a lot going on with the immune system. Most systems in the body have the decency to only include three or four types of cells, but the immune system just goes balls-out complicated. It’s like trying to keep track of the frigging Duggars, without the Amish gypsy vibe.

The “adaptive” (or “acquired”) immune response is pretty simple, though. Our bodies fight infection using what scientists call the “pissed-off soccer mom mechanism”.

Well. Some scientists call it that. A few. Probably.

Okay, only I call it that, and everyone else tells me to stop. But hear me out.

Think of your body as a bus, or an oversized minivan.

(This will be easier for some of us to visualize than others. Shaddup, skinnos.)

Now imagine the bus is parked at a Chuck E. Cheese’s, where soccer mom has driven to treat the team to an after-game meal. The kids have gone inside, wrought the unspeakable horrors that children inflict inside such establishments — hence the pissed-off soccer mom mechanism — and returned to the van for the ride home.

Before leaving, soccer mom has to take attendance. So she walks front to back, making sure all her kids are all accounted for — and checking for rogue children trying to sneak a free ride home. When she finds one — “Yo, there’s no ‘Salmonella’ on this roster sheet” — she doesn’t kick them off. No, no. The lady is frazzled after six hours of snot-wiping and animatronic idiot music; there’s no fight left in her. Soccer mom is a “dendrite cell”, merely recognizing the intruders. But she takes notes, and returns to the front of the bus.

And turns things over to soccer dad. He’s a “killer T cell”, and it’s his job to rid the bus of freeloaders. He’d rather be watching football, sure, but it was either this job or take the lymph nodes to ballet practice every weekend, so here he is. He takes soccer mom’s notes — the kids all look the same to him, otherwise — and drags the Streptococci and Smallpoxxes of the world off the bus and puts them back where they came from.

Namely, the inside of a Chuck E. Cheese’s.

That’s basically how adaptive immunity (and a kids’ soccer team outing) works: Mom sees a problem, tells Dad to take care of it and he makes a scene in the parking lot. It happened every Saturday during my childhood, and it’s happening in our bodies right now. The “pissed-off soccer mom mechanism” explains all — even special cases:

  • cancer immunology – Some kids on the team get rowdy and distract the driver.
  • autoimmune disease – Dad gets fed up and kicks everyone off the bus
  • immunodeficiency – The kids steal Mom’s notes, and the interlopers take over.

Take my advice: when it comes to immunology, just ask yourself, “If my mom had to put up with fourteen screaming kids all day and then got attacked by a germ, what would she do?” Works every time.

Actual Science:
iBiologyWhat is acquired immunity?
Nature ReviewsDendritic cells: controllers of adaptive immunity
Scripps Research InstituteThe Ultimate Decoy
ScienceAdaptive immunity goes back in time

Image sources: Cell (dendritic cell), ABGAb and Scientific American (cells ‘n’ Duggars), (angry mom), MomLogic (Chuck E. Diseases)

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