Soon, superhuman games for genetically enhanced humansPublished On: Fri, Jul 20th, 2012 | Technology | By BioNews
Superhuman athletes created by gene therapy and biomechanical engineering will one day need their own Olympics, scientists have predicted.
Performance-enhancing technologies will advance to a level where they will not only extend human limits – but demand a events all of their own, similar to the Formula One version of car racing.
“For each one there will be a new sport – power running and power swimming and power climbing,” the Daily Mail quoted Professor Hugh Herr of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as telling Nature.
“Just like the invention of the bicycle led to the sport of cycling. What we’ll see is the emergence of all kinds of new sports,” Herr said.
Mechanical prosthetics will become much more proficient than the ‘cheetah-style’ legs used by amputees including Oscar Pistorius from South Africa.
Prof Herr’s lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is currently working on a bionic running leg.
“Stepping decades into the future, I think one day the field will produce a bionic limb that’s so sophisticated it truly emulates biological limb function,” the biomechanical engineer said.
“That technology will be the Olympic sanctioned limb. Without any such human-like constraints the Paralympics limb will become the basis of this human-machine sport like race car driving,” Herr said.
According to researchers, if all the restrictions were lifted science could push human performance to new extremes – although drugs are not the only answer.
Some say enhancers have become so prevalent that the only solution is to allow anything – as long as it is safe.
But surgery and, ultimately, technological augmentations could also help athletes towards the podium.
Baseball pitchers who have undergone surgery to replace a damaged elbow ligament with tissue from a hamstring or forearm tendon claim that they can now throw harder after the two-year rehabilitation process.
Dr Andy Miah, a bioethecist at West of Scotland University in Ayr, sees potential in more imaginative surgical enhancement.
“Consider using skin grafts to increase webbing between fingers and toes to improve swimming capacity,” he said.
“These kinds of tweaks to our biology are likely ways people would try to gain an edge over others,” he said.
Advances in gene therapy could eventually make it possible for any athlete to enhance their DNA.
In experiments aimed at treating muscular dystrophy in the elderly researchers at Pennsylvania University introduced a gene to cause over-expression of the growth hormone IGF1 in mice.
The treatment boosted muscle strength of young adult mice by 14 percent – earning the rodents the nickname ‘mighty mice.’
Another frontier is nanotechnology with researchers already experimenting with blood supplements based on oxygen-carrying particles for use in emergency situations.
“There is a lot of discussion about the possibility of biologically infused nanodevices that could perpetually maintain certain thresholds of performance,” Dr Miah said.