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Superpowers are real! Five mutant abilities already among us

A mutation is a permanent alteration in a gene. They play a substantial part in evolution, as well as in abnormal biological processes like cancer.

Professor Charles Xavier can explain it far more clearly:

Smooth eh?

Mutations result from irreparable damage to the DNA, errors in replication, or from the insertion or deletion of segments of DNA. Mutations don’t always manifest as discernible physical characteristics, and of course they don’t always mean good news.

But here are five cases of mutations that boosted human qualities to the point of turning their bearers almost into Marvel-licensed characters.

Adamantium bones

The LRP5 gene provides the instructions for making a protein embedded in the outer membrane of many types of cells. Among its many functions, this gene helps regulate bone mineral density, and researchers have identified a mutation in LRP5 which gives people almost unbreakable bones.

In one notable case, the University of Yale found an entire Connecticut family with such unusually high bone density that 20 of their members had no history of fractures or osteoporosis.

Dr Richard P. Lifton, chair of Yale’s Department of Genetics, said the family had “the strongest bones on the entire planet” and curiously, compared them not to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine but to Bruce Willis.

“If there are living counterparts to the [hero] in Unbreakable, who is in a terrible train wreck and walks away without a single broken bone, they’re members of this family,” said Lifton.

Control the kingdom of dreams

We’re almost worthless after an all-nighter, but what if we could completely reload batteries after just four hours of sleep?

Researchers have identified a mutation in a transcriptional repressor (hDEC2-P385R) present in roughly 1 per cent of the population.

People with the ‘short sleeper’ mutation get up naturally without alarm clocks. On top of that, their energy levels are at maximum without any additional help from stimulants like coffee, energy drinks or tea.

Malaria immunity

Ever heard of Infectious Lass? Me neither to be honest, but she seems to have quite a cult following among hardcore comic book fans.

Infectious Lass is a 1950s DC superhero who had the rather colorful ability of being resilient to any disease, and in turn, also had the power to contaminate at will. Gross.

While not quite exactly like our peculiar superhero, researchers have found that people with G6PD deficiency are resistant to malaria. This mutation is an evolutionary adaptation present in populations who have been continuously affected by the disease in the last century.

Another case of evolutionary adaptation in action.

Who wants to live forever?

This one is a bit complicated, but bare with me. Cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) is a protein that enables the transport of cholesteryl esters and triglycerides between lipoproteins… Phew!

Scientists from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University conducted a 2010 study involving 523 people who lived to 95 or beyond, and found that those who inherited a particular mutation (RS5882) of the CETP gene were twice as likely to have an alert brain when they are elderly.

They were also five times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Furthermore, there was a striking correlation between age and the mutation: about 8 per cent of people aged 70 have the CETP variant, but this rises up to 25 per cent among those who lived past 100.

Run like The Flash

In 2003, scientists discovered an association between a mutation in the ACTN3 genotype (R577X) and elite athletic performance.

The study suggests that the presence of ACTN3 R577X has beneficial effects on the skeletal muscle functions responsible for generating forceful contractions at high velocity – a welcome trait when it comes to sprinting.

Although being a super athlete depends on myriad factors, most of them environmental (namely training and diet), after the Beijing Olympics it was clear that performers from some nations had the edge. Jamaican sprinters won seven out of 12 available medals in the men’s and women’s 100 metre and 200 metre events, and the United States took four out of the five remaining medals.

Studies after the Olympics confirmed a correlation between the mutation and high performance, although researchers found it not to be a significant determinant of success.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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