The Science of Superpowers

Often scientists get a bad press as people who do not know how to have fun or people who are too serious for their own good. Well, apart from the fact that I think that science is intrinsically fun and the most interesting thing that there is in our Universe (and possibly all of the parallel Universes if they indeed exist), I also have to note that a number of scientists that are big fans of all the superhero stuff is incredibly large (and, no, I do not make this assumption just from watching the Big Bang Theory). See, as far as my personal experience goes, the more knowledge about a subject I gain the bigger horizons open up. So it’s not such a far fetched thing when you start to imagine the possibilities of the gene-X existence, especially because the evolution has already created genes Y, W and Z. Yes, these might not be genes that allow a person to fly or become invisible but as far as I’m concerned these are just as amazing. Examples?

Mantis shrimp has 16 different photoreceptors (compare to a pitiful 2 of humans) and can swing its claws with acceleration of 102,000 m/s2 and speeds of 80kph.
Hairy frog that intentionally brakes its bones and pushes them through its toes to make claws (sounds like Wolverine?)
Deinococcus radiodurans can withstand 5,000Gy of radiation (compare to 1.5Gy that would kill a human).
And this list goes on and on….

But as I said, when the background knowledge is good enough we can start to create great stories about how a number of superhero powers could be an actual reality. And here I stumbled upon a paper (mind you, I have to worn you upfront that it is a fake paper (just in case)) that studies a protein, called Howlett that gives the Wolverine his regenerative powers.

According to study, Howlett is a homolog of protein, called Amblox, found in an axolotl (a lovely weird-looking amphibian that has external gills that make it look a bit like baby dragon). Axolotls are known for their ability to regenerate their limbs. Cells that were knockouts of howlett or amblox showed a significantly decreased ability to regenerate indicating the importance of these genes. Howlett protein was expressed throughout the body of Wolverine and also was more enzymatically active compared to the Amblox protein, which suggests the reasons why axolotls only regenerate their limbs (amblox is only expressed in the limbs) and why it takes much longer for them to regenerate. Based on the known functions of Amblox in the control of cell cycle the authors propose that Howlett inhibits GSK3β protein and prevents it from degrading cyclin D1 , which leads to progression of G1/S cell-cycle checkpoint.

If anyone wants to have a nice and funny reading I suggest looking at the paper.

Howlett: Novel Wolverine protein contributes to rapid regeneration and heightened cellular replication

I laughed out loud when I saw some of the details (“[animals were] treated in accordance with Xavier University’s Animal Care Committee’s regulations”, “the sequence of these siRNAs is the intellectual property of Dr. Summers and we are therefore not at liberty to release it”, etc.) Cha, Cha, Cha…

Mexican Axolotl

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