Supermouse and Superman: The Dawn of Biological Liberation

News

Scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, have created a genetically engineered mouse nicknamed Supermouse which can run for up to six hours at a speed of 20 metres per minute before needing a rest.

According to Professor Richard Hanson the special ‘athletic’ abilities of the mice are due to the way that they metabolise glucose in the blood.‘They are metabolically similar to Lance Armstrong biking up the Pyrenees; they utilize mainly fatty acids for energy and produce very little lactic acid’.

Although the new mice ate 60 per cent more than their non-enhanced counterparts, they were fitter and leaner than normal mice (Minimice) and had the ability to give birth at up to three years old – the equivalent in human terms of an 80 year old woman giving birth.

The new mice have been genetically engineered to cause a glucose metabolising gene – PEPCK-C – to be over-expressed in the skeletal muscle, allowing them to avoid the muscle-cramping effects of build-up of lactic acid which normal mice, and humans, experience during prolonged exercise.

The researchers will use the new mouse to study the effects of diet and exercise on longevity and cancer risk and potentially to better understand the genetic basis of inherited conditions which lead to muscle wasting in humans.

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Analysis

This research is not a curiosity. It is ground breaking and of enormous significance for the future of humanity for two reasons.

Firstly, it will change the nature of sporting competition. Until now, people like Lance Armstrong have been unique because of freakish changes in their basic metabolism, allowing the produce more energy more efficiently. But these genetic advantages will disappear as drugs are developed and eventually genes are engineered which mean that these natural metabolic advantages are obliteratered. What will sport look like in the postgenomic era? One thing seems certain – performance enhancement is inevitable and we will have to form a rational policy on doping.

Secondly, the creation of supermouse represents a major step towards “biological liberation”, that is, to us being liberated from the biological constraints evolution placed on us. Until now, we have been stuck with the biology evolution dished out. The reason there are no supermen, like the reason there are no naturally occurring supermice is that it would have been evolutionarily disadvantageous, given previous environments, to require the vast amounts of food resources to produce this advantage in speed, endurance and reproduction

So our biochemistry is set to Pleistocene conditions. But today, we have a superabundance of food in the West – our problem is surfeit and obesity. We could easily provide the calories to run at this speed. Whereas evolution may have had good reason not to produce supermen, we could. This raises profound ethical issues

Our lives – when we reproduce, whether we get cancer or heart disease, how long we live, how we perform mentally and physically – are determined in large part by very basic biochemical cycles in our bodies. The differences between us are often the function of very small differences in biology. That is why Lance Armstrong and Miguel Indurain were so much better than the other cyclists of their times. For the first time, as Supermouse shows, we can change these basic cycles with radical results. The possibility of humans being twice as fast, living twice as long, reproducing at 80, not aging, being mentally and physically much quicker is not science fiction. Watch the video – we have the same gene as the minimouse. There is no reason why we could not be supermouse or better, superman.

Supermouse is not just about running faster – it is about altering our biology to improve, to think faster, to live faster and, hopefully, to live better.

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