Could it be that the secret to strengthening the immune system’s ability to fight off illness might be right under our noses -- or rather, in them?

An associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Saskatchewan, Scott Napper, says there could very well be health benefits to that most icky of icky habits: picking our noses and eating it.

Napper notes that almost all kids have a compulsion to taste the things that come out of their noses. He says it’s possible that nature is pushing humans to adopt the behaviour because it is somehow to our natural advantage.

Nasal mucous traps germs and stops them from getting into our lungs, Napper says, but it’s possible that if we eat the mucous, exposure to those germs could actually help build immunity.

“It might teach your immune system about what's it's likely to get exposed to, so it might serve as almost a natural vaccination, if you will,” he told CTV Saskatoon.

Napper’s booger-eating-benefits idea originated during a class he was teaching on the molecules in mucous. He says the class looked bored so he tried to, ahem, dig a little deeper.

“I got their attention by saying that's why snot tastes so sweet. And a lot of them were nodding along like they agreed, but not really realizing what they had acknowledged,” he says with a laugh.

It’s possible, he says, that by blowing our noses into handkerchiefs or tissues, we might be robbing our bodies of the chance to develop valuable antibodies.

Napper says his idea is still very preliminary, but admits, it's gotten a lot of attention.

He now hopes to conduct a study in which some type of molecule could be inserted into people’s noses, with half the participants picking their nose and eating it, and then seeing if the molecule still makes them ill.

With a report from CTV Saskatoon’s Carla Shynkaruk