What needs to be improved or added to the structure (device) of human lungs to be able to filter toxic chemical compounds in the air (for example, in mines the air may contain nitrogen, methane, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxides, methane, hydrogen, heavy hydrocarbons, radon, ammonia and other harmful gases, as well as water vapor and dust) and dust (as in dust storms) that can get into the lungs when "inhaling" (breathing)?

In other words, what needs to be changed in a person's lungs so that they can breathe air filled with poisonous gases and dust ?

Warning: I only need biological changes, so no gauze bandages or gas masks, just genetic engineering.

  • $\begingroup$ generally you want to filter dust before it gets to the lungs. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ I need to add a system to the lungs of a person through which it will be possible to fully filter the above gases and dust when inhaled. We can't breathe chlorine and carbon monoxide. $\endgroup$
    – user71408
    Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 8:01

1 Answer 1


The solution to pollution is dilution.

Leave the lungs the way they are. The secret to getting rid of contaminants in inhaled air is to intercept them before they reach the lungs. That is currently done via the nasal passages. The nasal passages can be augmented.

  1. Much mucus and long hairy nasal passages. Macroparticles like dust can be intercepted using mucus. Chordates of all sorts do that now. Hair in the nasal passages offers more surface area for mucus. Dust laden mucus can leave through the front of the nose either as a ow drip or occasional forceful sneezing. Ideally though the mucus is swallowed so the GI tract can capture and recycle the mucus and constituents.

  2. Amphiphilic soap-like molecules in the mucus. Lipophilic "toxins" like hydrocarbons can be captured by including soap-like amphiphilic fats in the mucus. Just as soap captures oil and grease and facilities water solubility, amphiphilic molecules in the mucus will capture oils. Plus it will make the mucus nice and bubbly.

    Methane is not toxic unless you have so much that is an asphyxiant - no helping that.

  3. Oxides of sulfur and nitrogen. These are toxic because in water they dissociate into the acid which then is corrosive. Your mucus has phosphate buffers and lots of it. The phosphate buffer will neutralize acids, and the constituent molecules are not toxic. Bonus - those toxins which are irritating because they are basic (ammonia) will also be buffered by the surfeit of phosphate.

  4. DNA decoys. The problem with radon is that it has a different mechanism of activity. It is genotoxic because it is radioactive. The mucus of your humans contains a lot of DNA. DNA is a fine constituent of mucus because it is so sticky and gooey and this DNA is not needed for coding - rather it is a scavenger of free radicals caused by radon, ozone, catalytic metals and other things which generate mutagenic oxygen species. As a scavenger of oxidants DNA will also protect again halogens like chlorine. DNA is readily available in the human body. Sloughed epithelial cells or neutrophils can contribute their DNA to the mucus.

None of this is science fiction. It is all just augmenting systems already present in the human body. Your genetic engineers will appreciate that you are not asking them to engineer psychic powers.

  • $\begingroup$ that is, you propose not to change the lungs themselves (their shape) but to add some glands that produce special mucus? Question: will this not hinder full breathing? (mouth / nose), and how will it look (can you describe the device)? $\endgroup$
    – user71408
    Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 19:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ No hindering: The abdominal muscles will merely be a tad bit stronger to pull air through the additional filtering. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ @FrenchThompson - they could have bigger noses / faces to accommodate larger and lengthier nasal passages. That is about it. They might snort a lot. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 23:05
  • $\begingroup$ How to solve a problem such as mercury vapor? $\endgroup$
    – user71408
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 14:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @FrenchThompson - for protection from mercury, load the mucus with glutathione or other proteins with exposed sulfhydryl groups. Mercury loves sulfur and will be irreversibly bound to these sulfhydryl groups. Glutathione is also a great antioxidant and could help against reactive oxygen species / halides as well. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 15:18

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