Be The Smuggest Parent: Attainable X-Men Powers For Your Awesome Designer Baby

Although I was unjustly robbed of victory in the I’m a Scientist – Get Me Out of Here! Science communication challenge a few weeks ago, I did get to field a lot of great genetics questions from schoolkids. I would say about 80% of them related to the acquisition of mutant superpowers. Most mutant superheroes have powers beyond the scope of what you can achieve through mutation in the real world. On the other hand, some super traits actually do crop up occasionally, and others would definitely be achievable with a little dabbling…

Powers you can’t have

Powers causing really complicated modifications (like X-Man Angel’s wings) are a no-go because they would require a whole new set of genes working in harmony. Whole new neural subroutines and developmental changes could be necessary, making this a tall order to fill. This is not something you can acquire through a random mistake. Genetics is also cruelly shackled to the limits of physics, space and time. This rules out many of the cooler powers possessed by the likes of Storm, Cyclops and Polaris. Most of the bigshot superheroes spend a lot of their time bitching about the burderns of their powers anyway, so maybe it isn’t that great a loss to us after all.

Powers you can have:

All sorts of weird mutations crop up naturally all the time. In most cases they are debilitating – it’s far more likely that a typo in a computer program will mess it up rather than make it more efficient, and it’s the same with genes and proteins. A useful aspect to these mutations is that they tell us what a now broken gene was supposed to be doing in the first place, which can be very hard to figure out otherwise. Once we know what a gene does – be it from an animal or a human – we can start meddling. As all the hand-wringing Daily Mail readers out there tell us, the inevitable result of genetic meddling will be ‘designer babies’. Most of us are pretty on board with the current scope of this: procedures such as selecting for an egg cell which isn’t affected by a horrendous genetic disease from an affected/carrier mother, fertilizing it and re-implanting it by IVF to make a nice healthy child. Really though, why should we stop there? What kind of person would go to the trouble of making a designer baby that didn’t have super awesome mutant powers?? How else are you supposed to guarantee that your kid is better than all the other little screamers? Sure, you could make them tall and blue eyed if you want, but that’s so unimaginative. Therefore, allow me to present my catalogue of totally achievable mutant superpowers you can give your designer baby, mostly from the X-Men universe.

(If you can think of any other series with a good stock of supermutants comment it up and I’ll add them in)

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3 Bodyparts I Would Totally Splice Into Myself

Do you ever get bored with your generic kidneys and garden variety human eyeballs? I know I do. While there are a couple of good decorative and useful mods out there (I’ve opted for piercings and fillings), we are all looking forward to the time when we can just splice in whatever we fancy. Here are three interesting alternatives and extras I wouldn’t mind having:

Statocysts (Squid ears)

Squid have a really neat auditory system – who knew? Well, no one until recently – we only just discovered that they have a sense of hearing at all. Research on the Loligo pealei species has revealed that they hear using nifty organs called Statocysts which, like human ears, help with balance as well as detecting sound.

By IllaZilla (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

These Longfin Inshore Squid are listening to Reel Big Fish and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it

Statocysts are little hollow balls. They are filled with liquid and the inside surface is covered with tiny hairs, each of which is linked to a nerve. Within the void of the statocyst floats a tiny grain of calcium called a statolith. The statolith normally rests near the front of the ball touching a few hairs. Any sound waves that reach the squid cause the statolith to jiggle about and touch different hairs. The brain interprets the pattern of nerve activity this produces and ‘hears’ the noise! Like humans, the squid can get an idea of the direction from which the sound is coming from by comparing the time of detection and the strength of the vibration reported by each statocyst.

A Statocyst

A Statocyst

If that wasn’t enough, the statocyst regulates balance. If the squid moves forwards quickly the statolith jumps from the front of the cyst to the back. The delay between the front and back hairs being activated, as well the position of the activate hairs report the direction and velocity of the movement. In the same way the squid gets feedback about whether it has moved up, down, left or right.

Squid ears are probably no better than human ears, but I would definitely have a pair – cephalopod over Ipod, as I always say.

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