What We Can Learn From ‘Osmosis Jones’ During a Global Pandemic

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“Osmosis Jones” may invoke nostalgic visions of sophomore year biology class. Today, the adventures of Ozzie and Drix in the 2001 Warner Brothers movie are a resource to understand how our bodies fight pathogens while we as a society face the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The live-action and animation hybrid tells the story of Frank (played by Bill Murray). A zookeeper with poor health habits, Frank inevitably contracts an unknown illness. It’s up to Osmosis Jones, a white blood cell cop known as “Ozzie”, and Drix, a fussy cold-cure pill, to bring Frank’s body back to homeostasis.

What can “Osmosis Jones” tell us about the new COVID-19 reality we face today?

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Your body is prepared to police against dangerous pathogens.

The main character Ozzie is a white blood cell (WBC), a vital component of a functioning immune system. WBCs police viruses, fungi and other pathogens to defend our bodies from illness.

Like in the movie, the many systems of our body are constantly communicating. WBCs like Ozzie are stationed all over the body and work with the lymphatic system and other defensive entities to fight infection and disease.

People with chronic illness have a corrupt police force.

In the movie, when germs enter the immune system, immunities like Ozzie respond to them. For people who have autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the body attacks and destroys its own police force, or WBCs, that are meant to defend them from harm.

One type of WBC on the frontlines of defense is the neutrophil. Neutrophils sense and gather at sites of infection, and destroy deadly pathogens. People with cancer, autoimmune diseases and chronic conditions can experience a low amount of neutrophils, resulting in higher susceptibility to viruses like COVID-19 due to the lack of ability to manage dangerous pathogens.

Wash your hands, especially before you eat.

At the beginning of “Osmosis Jones,” Frank drops the egg he’s snacking on in the monkey exhibit, claims the “ten-second rule” and continues to eat it. When the saliva boat control within Frank’s body is cleaning up the remnants of the dirty egg, they propose writing a letter to address Frank’s lack of handwashing and general poor hygiene.

Don’t be like Frank.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), proper handwashing reduces respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 in the general population by 16–21%.

Eat fibrous foods to fight infection.

When character Tom Clonic announces his candidacy for mayor, he vows to run on the platform of cleaning up the rot and stagnation in the bowels. He wants to “get things moving” by adding fruits and vegetables to Frank’s diet.

A recent study published in the Lancet garnered information from virtually all studies available in major research databases from the last 40 years from 185 prospective studies and 58 clinical trials with 4,635 adult participants.

The study found one common thread: participants who incorporated more fiber were found more likely to live longer and avoid common diseases in the process. According to the study, the population at large is better off consuming more fiber, as it reduces the risk of diseases like COVID-19 that are affecting humans en masse.

“Osmosis Jones” may be fictional, but the biology and the message ring true. Wash your hands, eat your greens and do your part.

By Tess Francke

Tess Francke is a freelance journalist and marketing specialist who has spent her career at the intersection of media, writing, design and health research. You will find her other byline in the National Foundation for Cancer Research blog and Research to Remission quarterly oncology magazine. She is a proud Detroit native with the mission is to facilitate the vital connection between populations and health information. She loves teaching fitness classes and her daily yoga practice.

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