Science Questions

How much of our body do we need to survive?

Fri, 18th Jul 2014

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Question

Peter asked:

How much of my body could I live without? People donate a pint or so of blood, a kidney maybe, and can live without limbs, but what's the limit? How much of our body do we really need?

Answer

Georgia - Over to Elena Teh, Cambridge University medical student, lending us aKidneys hand to find the answer.

Elena - Lots of people live having had lots of bits like kidneys and livers taken out. And the answer is more complicated these days where we have very clever machines that can pump blood around our body just like our hearts can and they put oxygen in our blood just like our lungs do, and they can clean our blood like our kidneys can.

Georgia - But without these machines, what are the bits of our bodies we just can't do without?

Elena - Firstly, we need our brains and spinal cord to work. They control our breathing and heart rates. Itís mostly the bottom of our brains that do these things. So, in theory, we could take out the frontal lobes which control our personality and still be fine. We also need our hearts to pump blood which carries oxygen and other nutrients to the rest of our body. Then we need our lungs or rather, Ďa lungí. We really only need one good lung to live, but itís nice to have two just in case. We also need a liver to process all the drugs and toxins that enter our bodies, but only a chunk of it, as itís a clever little thing that grows as much as we need it to. We also need a kidney, but just one will do and a gut, but we only need a meter and a half of small bowel, and there's no need for our large bowels if we really donít want it. We also need some skin to keep the bad bugs out and the water in so that we donít get too dehydrated. Everything else like our limbs, our eyes, our ears, nose, teeth, hair, appendix, reproductive organs, pancreas, spleen, oesophagus, belly buttons, these really are just a luxury. Itís definitely very nice to have them all, but we are able to stay alive without them.

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