Tuesday, September 29, 2009

101 Interesting Things, part twenty-three: Myostatin

Myostatin is one of the main reasons we're not all mesomorphic hulks: it says to the body, "Hey, you have enough muscle, now start saving up fat in case we're starving later!" Well, it actually doesn't say anything, but you get the idea. It's regulated pretty strictly by genes, and one locus in particular determines whether or not your body makes it at all. These particular alleles are co-dominant, but it so happens that those who are homozygous "for" myostatin are the most common, and so we shall call that "normal." When organisms are heterozygous, they tend to be more on the big & burly side than their kin. But every so often, we find an organism homozygous "for" not having myostatin.

When this happens to whippets, they're called "bully whippets," and they look like they're Photoshopped:
I promise you that this image has not been tampered with. Neither has this Belgian Blue:
Sport animals and livestock are sometimes bred for myostatin deficiency in order to be more adept at whatever it is that they do, whether running races or producing meat for human consumption. It carries complications with it, but so do all genes (some are just more complicating than others). So what happens when this sort of thing occurs in a human body?

Liam Hoekstra is what happens. He was first able to do the Iron Cross at five months old. He's been described as a "real-life Superman," but "real-life Captain America" is more like it (even though he's from Germany), considering the nature of their "powers" both cluster around embodying the peak of human capability. Everybody wants a piece of this kid, and it's actually making his family life pretty difficult. I'll say this once for clarity, and only once because it ought to be a non-issue: private citizens are entitled to private lives and being of scientific curiosity entitles no individual or organization to "a piece" of that person. At the same time, being of scientific curiosity is no fundamentally more or less newsworthy than being a good speller, or a good runner, or a good football player, or a good businessperson, so this definitely qualifies as news (but nobody gets to "do anything" with that news unless it's OK with young Liam and his family). Capisce? Great!

So I think that we can all agree that myostatin is interesting stuff, and it will be interesting to see if Mr. Hoekstra does anything else newsworthy in his life (besides being born with some particularly interesting genes).


Typhinius said...

Been reading Cracked lately? ;p

Anyway, I hope the kid grows up ok and isn't treated as a freak.

D said...

No, actually, I haven't for over a month. I know they talk about this, though. They talk about lots of things. If I had to lay off every single thing the writers at Cracked touched on, I could never say anything at all.

Ebonmuse said...

On the topic of superhuman mutants, there's another one that's pretty cool:


This family carries a mutation in a gene called LRP5 which, through a series of signaling interactions, results in their having bones about five standard deviations denser than average human beings. These denser bones are highly resistant to breaks, and in fact, the mutation was first discovered when a girl who carries it got in a serious car accident, which she survived with no fractures. Other than their increased density, this family's bones are the normal shape and size, and it appears that the mutation has no other nasty side effects. Researchers are studying it to try to develop a drug for osteoporosis.

D said...

Whoah! That's amazing! I guess that's what we get out of 150 mutations per generation.

Then there's the KE family in London. About half of them have a mutation in their FOXP2 gene that makes them unable to write lists of words starting with the same letter, or form certain sounds because they can't control the muscles in the lower half of their faces (at least, not to the degree that most of us can).

Man, science is so cool! And just a few centuries ago, these folks probably all would have been burned as witches/demons/whatever.

Typhinius said...

I wasn't saying you shouldn't cover things cracked do...I just thought that cracked was what prompted the blog post.


D said...

Whoah, neat! I don't think I've seen that one before (but I spent a lot of time on Cracked up until that xkcd strip convinced me that it's a hole). Obviously, I knew about Liam, and I saw Lotito on TV years ago; but I didn't know about Underwood, Rossi, or Oyama. New facts to me: Cridland's thing is based on a nervous defect and not balls of steel (darn), and Monkforce is genuine and not hokum (whoah!).

Fun Fact: While looking for the xkcd strip linked above, I found this one that mentions simple.wikipedia.org, and now I fell into another hole. I think I'm just prone to falling into holes, be they informational, druggish, or stupid-fun.