Superheroes have been an inspiration to every child and everyone at least once had wished to receive some sort of superpower that will allow them to fight off evil or to get more candy, I’m not too sure why a child would want superpowers. Anyway, as we grew up we realized soon enough that superheroes only exist in comic books and movies, still, we can’t stop wondering what if we were able to create superhumans? And with the advancements of genetic mutation and gene modification, this question is sparking curiosity in many all over the world. So is such a thing even possible?
What is Gene Mutation?
Before creating a “superhuman” we must understand what exactly is a gene mutation, as this word has been passed around in the movies and comics like a soccer ball in an intense game. While gene mutation simply means the change in genes that occurs due to ultraviolet rays and harmful radiation that usually leads to illnesses and diseases. The actual term we are using here is actually gene manipulation. As the name suggests, we simply alter the genetic code by adding or removing certain proteins and enzymes in the genes, it might sound negative and something not to be done. However, we have been altering the DNA of many plants either to yield more crops or help them fight off certain diseases for many years and the plants derived from such process are known as Genetically Modified (GMO) and perhaps one of the best examples of this would be bananas. As the wild species of bananas were smaller and contained pebble-like seeds, so the next time you eat a banana thank the gene modification.
While gene modification sounds exciting and truly something that can create a superhuman, in the past it was a sluggish process. It would take years to get the results one desires and some more to test if the changes made were stable and not harmful, not to mention the high cost of operation. This slow pace was made express and significantly cheaper thanks to the discovery of CRISPR. Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats or CRISPR is one of the real superpowers all living organisms possess, as the war between bacteria and viruses has been going around from the beginning, these two developed their own ways to spread and kill the other. While the virus injects its own DNA into the bacteria, which ultimately kills the bacteria but if the bacteria somehow survives it launches a specifically designed protein known as CAS-9 which creates a very unique set of DNA specifically able to target, fight and quickly kill the virus if it happens to attack again. It is this CAS-9 that works in a truly amazing way, when it receives a code of DNA it thoroughly examines it and produces opposite DNA, and completes the chain.
Now that we understand that we have tools and the right understanding to create a superhuman, how can we go on about doing so? As genes are quite an intricate set of codes that have been subject to millions of years of evolution, they carry certain aspects that will naturally reject the manipulation. But here’s the interesting part, we don’t require to use any lab-created special serum or cut open an individual to alter their genes with synthetics. We are surrounded by superhumans, while their abilities might not be as interesting as flight or super speed but they possess real-life powers. For example, one individual named Tim Dreyer in South Africa possesses dense bones than an average human and this allows him to walk out of accidents that will leave the bones of an average person crumbled. Maybe calcium-rich bones aren’t your thing, how about supervision? Veronica Seider from Germany has a 20/2 vision, which means she is capable of identifying a person from a mile away, try to play hide and seek with her.
- Super Strength: This is perhaps one of the fundamental traits when it comes to any superhuman as humans have a limit and beyond that, we are unable to produce strength. In a study, it was found that activin A receptor type IIB (ACVR2B) has codes that limit the action of myostatin, a protein responsible for limiting muscle growth. However, mutated ACVR2B leads to muscle growth. So in theory, if an individual’s ACVR2B is altered it can allow one to grow lean-muscle mass that will ultimately lead to super strength.
- SuperSpeed: A gene called NCoR1 is responsible for limiting the muscle growth around the limbs which ultimately results in a limited speed. Sure, one can train all their lives to reach a higher speed but even with intense training one cannot surpass a certain threshold. A study in Switzerland removed this gene in mice which allowed the mice to develop stronger muscles and a larger number of mitochondria resulting in these mice running twice as fast as normal.
- Super Senses: While we have seen in cartoons and movies that if one loses their vision their other senses are heightened, however, that is just in the fictional world. In reality, this power is possessed and used by dolphins, as they are able to create a 3-dimensional view of the world around them by using echolocation. It is stated that pristine protein will allow sonar capabilities in humans with visual impairment.
While there are humans with other forms of super abilities in the world such as extreme flexibility, stretchy skin, and so on these mentioned abilities are considered as one of the top threes and everybody wishes for them. With the advancements in gene modification it might be possible, but we are uncertain how it will affect other aspects of our lives. Perhaps it is too early to run to your nearest lab with a superpower catalog but it can be a possibility in the distant future.