Monthly Archives: March 2012

Maybe Heroism Isn’t Your Style

I certainly don’t want to accidentally exclude anyone from enjoying this blog, so for my next post I thought I would focus on the opposite end of the comic book character spectrum from superheroes: the super villain.  Maybe you don’t want to be the hero, maybe you’ve always felt like fighting against society for your own personal gains (I’m not here to judge, just to educate).  So I thought for my first villain post, I would start small.  And by small, I actually mean very, very large.

Fred Dukes, or The Blob, is a mutant whose physiology allowed him to create a mono-directional gravity field extending five feet from his center of balance, rendering himself virtually immovable as long as he was in contact with the ground. His body formerly had superhuman strength and durability; the fat tissues could absorb the impact of bullets, cannonballs, and even missiles.

The first step towards getting powers like these for yourself is to gain the necessary body mass.  I can’t guarantee that the ability to produce your own gravity field or to have bullets just bounce off of you will necessarily come after, but you have to take that first step off a ledge in order to get anywhere at all.  And there’s a smarter way to go about this than just eating as much as you physically can.

Recently, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have discovered that variations in the CD36 gene can alter a human’s sensitivity to the taste of fat in foods. Prior investigation of the CD36 gene in rodent models showed that rats and mice engineered without the CD36 gene no longer had a preference for fatty foods and were not able to digest fat properly. As noted in their article for the Journal of Lipid Research, not only can people who produce more CD36 protein more easily detect fat, it is estimated that 20% of people have a variant of the CD36 gene associated with making less CD36 protein.  It was found that participants with genotypes conducive of higher CD36 production were better able to detect the solution containing fat than participants with genotypes less conducive of CD36 production.  Thus, through some epigenetic altering, it could be possible to turn on the CD36 gene in your own body and get that small advantage on gaining the necessary weight to be able to induce your own personal gravitational field.

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Breathe Underwater Like Aquaman

Switching it up from my previous post, let’s move from the most popular hero in Marvel comics to arguably one of the biggest jokes in DC publishing: Aquaman.  In theory, I think Aquaman’s powers have a lot of potential: the telepathic ability to communicate with marine life (which at times can include any creature that lives on the sea, like seabirds, or sometimes even just any being evolved from marine life), in addition to numerous adaptations that allow him to survive in the greatest depths of the ocean.  Especially in the DCNU, DC is trying its hardest to present Aquaman in his best possible light:

Aquaman vs. Green Lantern

But personally, I have a hard time reconciling this new version of Aquaman with things more like this:

Regardless of which version of Aquaman you prefer, the ability to breathe underwater and superhuman durability high enough to remain unaffected by the immense pressure and the cold temperature of the ocean depths would actually be particularly useful in real life.  Science has diverged into two distinct directions both researching ways to allow man to effectively breathe underwater.

First is the strictly mechanical route: Like-A-Fish Technologies has developed an artificial gills process that effectively extracts oxygen from the surrounding water.  Their battery powered system utilizes a high-speed centrifuge to lower the pressure of seawater in a small sealed chamber.  This allows the dissolved air to escape back into a gaseous state to create a replenishing supply of breathable oxygen.  Since every liter of water consists of about 1.5% of dissolved air, the gills must circulate about 200 liters of water per minute to accommodate the oxygen requirements of an average person. Instead of being restricted to the amount of air that can be carried in a tank, a diver’s air supply would then depend only on the battery power available.  However, this technology is still in the prototype stages, and extensive research and development testing is required before it could be widely available.

However, artificial gills are not the only option for research into the realm of breathing underwater. Scientists have discovered a way for humans to potentially breathe underwater by merging our DNA with that of algae. A species of salamanders have been discovered that bond their eggs with oxygen-producing algae so closely that the two are now inseparable.  Scientists hope through further study of this mechanism, that the same process could be one day applied to humans as well.  Researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, discovered that human DNA is rife with hundreds of viruses we have absorbed over the course of history.  They applied this same theory to salamanders: algae often got stuck in their embryos and now some salamanders are literally part algae.  The algae does not leave as the salamander grows, meaning that by the time they are fully formed adults, salamanders are part plant.

This discovery is the first documented case of such complete symbiosis between a plant and a vertebrate. Bioengineers could one day potentially use algae as a source of oxygen for other organisms that it pairs with – including humans.  Such a leap would require extensive testing but given that like salamanders, we are also vertebrates, it is theoretically possible.

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