Will the athletes of the future be scientifically optimized superhumans? It's not as far out as you might think.
Surgery, blood augmentation, and genetic modifications are all possible ways to enhance the human body and take our natural abilities to new heights. But how exactly would such "body hacking" work?
I had a chance to speak with Dr. Norman Fost, professor at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, and Dr. Hugh Herr, who heads the biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab -- both are experts on performance enhancement.
Find out what they had to say in the video above and/or click the link below for a full transcript. And don't forget to sound off in the comments section at the bottom of the page. Come on, talk nerdy to me!
JACQUELINE HOWARD: Hi everyone. Jacqueline Howard here. Michael Phelps is pretty fast, right? But what if he had webbed fingers or toes to make him fly through the water? Or, what if Usain Bolt had supercharged oxygen-boosting blood to make him even that much faster? It may sound like sci-fi, but what if athletes’ bodies can eventually become custom-made for their sports? Scientists say that world is on the way, and there’s even a name for it: Human 2.0. It’s not just grafting a little webbed skin in swimmers or enhancing the blood for endurance in runners, but the athletics arm race may even lead to genetic changes or more ambitious surgeries that completely alter your anatomy.
NORMAN FOST: There are many reasons why one person’s stronger than another person, but one of those many reasons is where their tendons, where their muscles insert on the bone. The muscle that’s inserted into your lower arm, you’ll be able to be stronger, and to lift more effectively if that muscle is inserted further down on the arm. A close friend of mine who knew an Olympic speed skater, and was told by the U.S. Olympic speed skater of a speed skater from another country who had worked with doctors to use this principle in an experimental way, mainly by reinserting tendons in the legs to see if it would increase even marginally the strength and therefore the efficiency and ultimately the speed of the skater.
JH: That’s Dr. Norman Fost. He pointed out, we already know a lot about performance-enhancing drugs, and those who’ve gotten in some trouble for them. Lance Armstrong. Barry Bonds. Marion Jones. But, whatever your personal opinions may be, these other human 2.0 types of enhancements kinda take athleticism to a super human level. And some research is already underway. For instance, scientists are experimenting with the use of oxygen-carrying particles in the emergency room. See, when a patient is unable to breathe, they desperately need to get oxygen to their blood. So, tiny oxygen-packed microparticles can do the job by being directly injected into the blood stream. Interesting. And could we take enhancements to the genetic level? Fost said absolutely -- and Dr. Hugh Herr, he's director of the biomechatronics group at MIT, he's already seen it.
HUGH HERR: A friend of mine at Harvard Medical School has done research in developing transgenic mice and she figured out a way to genetically modify mice so that their muscles grow to enormous size and strength without even exercising.
JH: From enhanced swimming to boosting your endurance to surgically zapping your strength. Tell us what you think.
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