Does Humanity Have a Right to Use Myostatin Biochemical Pathway to Play God, Create Super-humans and Super-animals?
As humanity progresses through this century, one of the telling factors of our societal achievement will be marked by how we decide to use our scientific ability. Of all fields in science, one of the most exciting -and controversial- has been the once burgeoning and now robust field of genetics. With our mastery of the human genome and growing success in genetic manipulation, we will have to decide if, when and where to place limits on many aspects of genetics.
One of the conditions that has intrigued many scientists, most notably over the past decade, involves a condition known as myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy, or simply, double muscle. The two most well known cases, both documented and reported upon earlier this year, involve Wendy the Bully Whippet and Liam Hoekstra, the Superkid who can punch holes in walls and perform Olympian feats. While reading the profiles and a bit more on double muscle, keep in mind the question of limits and how you think science should proceed in these cases.
Superdogs and Double Muscle
Meet Wendy, the bully Whippet. As you may know, she has a muscular mutation that results in extremely bulked muscles. While Wendy would probably beat you up for trying to put her in a puppy purse or ridiculous dog tutu, she has displayed incredible feats of agility, speed and strength. Her genetic condition, again, known as myostatin related muscle hypertrophy, or more simply, double-muscle, has given her these super-abilities.
Through a two base-pair deletion in the whippet myostatin gene (MSTN), and a subsequent rejection of myostatin by muscle cells, Wendy has very fast muscle growth and repair, at levels where she has quickly grown up to hulking proportions.
The increased muscle mass, along with metabolism and extremely low levels of body fats, can translate to impressive super-feats, including the marked increases in speed, agility and power.
As documented by quantitative assay, whippets with this mutation seem to be consistently superior in racing events to their “wild-type” counterparts.
As you may already be thinking, a dog with genetically documented and known super-speed? Clearly this does and will raise major ethical concern in terms of dog breeding, as it may also within humans as we continue to learn and master the workings of our own genome.
Double muscle is still a condition under recent scientific scrutiny and testing, only having been adequately surveyed in humans since the year 2000.
Double Muscle In Humans
“Jaw-dropping strength. Breath-taking speed. Phenomenal agility. Olympian feats.”
With origins and abilities worthy of fitting a comic book hero, these are words that reporters and doctors have used to describe Liam Hoekstra. The thing is this: Liam is only a toddler.
Born only 21 months ago, Liam came into the world with many birth defects. He had a small hole in his heart, enlarged kidneys, frequently vomited and was born four weeks premature. Medical records indicated that his biological father was “unusually strong”.
Due to conditional circumstance, Liam was adopted at birth by the Hoekstra family.
Little did the family know that they were adopting a child with a very rare and special genetic condition.
The Hoekstras quickly began to notice Liam being able to do things out of the ordinary. Two days after birth, he was able to fully stand-up and support his own weight, given someone held his hands. Months later he began developing ripped abs, naturally doing pull-ups, inverted sit-ups, Olympic styled iron cross, thigh muscles compared to that of Lance Armstrong and even punching holes into walls during tantrums (accidentally gave his Mom a black eye once as well).
What really amazed his family was what happened whenever he fell.
“When he fell backward, he would land on his butt, but he never hit his head on the ground,” , his adoptive mother, Dana Hoekstra said. “His stomach would tense up and he would catch himself before his head hit the ground. You could see his stomach muscles. He had a little six-pack,” said Dana, in an interview.
After further investigation into Liam’s ability, doctor’s found he was genetically unique as he has a condition called myostatin related muscle hypertrophy.
In Liam’s case, his body’s muscles reject myostatin, allowing them to undergo quick growth and repair.
What does that entail, exactly?
Liam can expect to have up to 50% more muscle mass than average, ridiculous levels of strength, fast metabolism, and hardly any body fat. His mother mentions, “Liam has never had any body fat…the only fat he has is in his cheeks.”
Myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy (”double muscle”) is a condition that is still somewhat new to scientific scrutiny, and as mentioned until 2000, was not adequately documented as occurring in humans. Before this time, the best known example was that from ridiculously buff Belgian Blue cattle, a picture of which is below.
The biggest concern right now for the Hoekstra family is keeping Liam fed and at ideal weights. With his enlarged muscles and super-fast metabolism, odds are he can probably down his fair share of giant steaks.
Like all cases we’ll be looking at as more mutations occur within the human genome over time, whether naturally occurring or knowingly induced, there is a philosophical question that will remain at the fore. How much do we tinker with nature?
As it stands, there are many good things that can come about from genetic manipulation.
Today we have the ability to turn genes on and off, to up-regulate and down-regulate expression, or even use complex strategy to manipulate cascades along biochemical pathways, affecting expression. In short, this means we can alter many things within the body, including myostatin regulation. In laboratory conditions, double muscle has been induced within mice, and it is only a matter of time until there are enough data to significantly state inducing increased muscle expression in humans, among other things, is safe.
As related to current needs, developing foods that contain increased nutrients (some that would not even naturally occur) comes to mind as a pressing issue that should be persued. But as for genetic manipulation, within our own bodies, for no more than cosmetic purposes or to give “an edge” in life, is there a limit we should set as being too much?
We are still infants in terms of the universal space-time. The universe if infinite and in our 6,000 years of existance, we’ve barely scratched the surface of knowledge and understanding of our immediate surroundings. Delving into the microscopic world of genetics, a world that absolutely dictates our bodies and our future, is dangerous ground. When must humanity realize we are only that: humans?
These are important questions, and within most of your lifetimes, you’ll have to address these issues with your votes and even conversations with peers. It’s important to start thinking about these things now, as science and politics will progress, and you may find yourself with an army of Liam Hoekstra clones goose-stepping down your streets.