The Ethics of Harnessing Genetic Super-Strength?

Researchers have been studying the health and vitality of a young Berlin boy who was born with a double dose of a genetic mutation that causes immense strength in mice and cattle, the first such documented case in a human. Drugs are under development that, some say, will use the same principle to help people whose muscles are wasting from muscular dystrophy or other illnesses. Experts say the little boy, now 4 1/2 and still very strong, offers human evidence for the theory behind such drugs.

After testing the baby and his mother for mutations in the myostatin gene, the mother had one nonfunctioning copy of the gene. In the boy, both copies of the gene were inactive, he was making no myostatin.

The findings may help scientists pin down why some people find it easy to get strong while others can lift weights day after day to little effect. At least some of this natural variation, they suspect, may be a result of individual differences in myostatin levels.

But don't believe for one minute that taking a pill, or anything for that matter, will give you extra strength naturally. And what about all the ethical issues involved in harnessing this gene--if it can be done at all--to give athletes and regular folks like you and me better strength and endurance?

Spartanburg Herald-Journal June 24, 2004

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