Despite everything you may have heard from your mom, picking your nose and eating what you find may have some health benefits, according to a biochemistry professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

"By consuming those pathogens caught within the mucus, could that be a way to teach your immune system about what it's surrounded with?" is the hypothesis Scott Napper posed to his students. 

'I've got two beautiful daughters and they spend an amazing amount of time with their fingers up their nose.'—Scott Napper, biochemistry professor

Napper noted that snot has a sugary taste and that may be a signal to the body to consume it and derive information for the immune system.

"I've got two beautiful daughters and they spend an amazing amount of time with their fingers up their nose," he said. "And without fail, it goes right into their mouth afterwards. Could they just be fulfilling what we're truly meant to do?"

Napper said his hypothesis also fits into other theories that examine the link between improved hygiene and an increase in allergies and auto-immune disorders.

"From an evolutionary perspective, we evolved under very dirty conditions and maybe this desire to keep our environment and our behaviours sterile isn't actually working to our advantage," he said.

Napper added he likes to talk about nose picking and science to teach students how seemingly simple questions can lead to valuable scientific discoveries.

Devising an experiment

He noted his posting about boogers would need to be tested.

"All you would need is a group of volunteers. You would put some sort of molecule in all their noses, and for half of the group they would go about their normal business and for the other half of the group, they would pick their nose and eat it," he said. "Then you could look for immune responses against that molecule and if they're higher in the booger-eaters, then that would validate the idea."

Napper added, with a chuckle, that he has already been approached by people keen to participate in a study.

"I'm actually a little concerned they're going to start mailing in samples of who knows what," he said.

Napper said the greatest value of the snot-eating question is that, when he brings it up with his first-year science students they are instantly engaged in the class.

"Get the student to think, rather than just sitting there taking down notes," Napper said. "[Science] should be about the exchange of ideas."