Let’s learn about bones

Your skeleton does more than just hold you up

a photo of a model of a skeleton sitting in front of a chalkboard

Bones help you strike a pose. They also make red blood cells, send chemicals to communicate with other organs and protect our delicate parts from injury.

Ledwell/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Until you break one, you might not think much about your bones. But the 206 bones in our bodies are incredibly important. They hold us up, provide structure for our muscles and protect our delicate organs. And that’s not all. Their marrow produces the red cells in our blood, for instance. And bones produce hormones — chemical signals that communicate with other organs, such as the kidneys and brain.

A person’s bones will change as they age. They also will change if someone goes to space. There, an astronaut’s bones won’t have to work against Earth’s gravity as much as they usually do. So after spending a lot of time in microgravity, a person will lose bone mass.

Bones hold a record of our lives, even if we’ve never been to space. That makes archaeologists — scientists who study human history — very interested in bones. They analyze the bones and teeth of ancient people to find out who they might have been, where they traveled and what they ate. Small marks on bones can even tell how active someone was in life.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

Bones have stealth role in muscle, appetite and health: Bones release hormones that carry on long-distance chats with the brain and other organs. Studies in mice show these conversations can affect appetite, how the brain uses energy and more. (11/2/2017) Readability: 7.6

Cool Jobs: Drilling into the secrets of teeth: A bioengineer, a biologist and an archaeologist all study teeth to explore new materials, to grow better tissues and to learn more about prehistoric humans. (2/1/2018) Readability: 7.1

Skeletons hint that ancient societies had women warriors: Some women in North American hunter-gatherer societies and Mongolian herding groups may have been warriors. (5/28/2020) Readability: 7.9

Microgravity is tough on bones. Here’s everything you need to know about your skeleton and why it might be weaker after some time in space.

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Scientists Say: Archaeology

Explainer: What is a hormone?

A flexible bone that aids mammals in chewing arose during the Jurassic

Active teens build strong bones for life

Word find

Want to break down a bone without smashing it apart? Take a jar of vinegar and place a (clean) chicken bone inside. Wait a few days. The bone will become so flexible you might be able to tie it in a knot. The acid in the vinegar will react with the calcium carbonate in the bones (a base) and break it down. The result will be a bendy bone.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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