From time to time, I find myself struggling to maintain my weight loss. I can gain five pounds without even trying. When this happens, I must quickly resume my careful regimen so I can drop back to my target weight range.
After five years of conscious effort, I confess to a certain longing for a magical solution.
Isn’t there a pill we could safely take that would help us shed pounds? Or curb an unmanageable appetite? Isn’t there a way to turn fat into sleek muscle without the time and effort of exercising?
You know the expression “Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it”? Perhaps to our detriment, our wish may come true as a result of genetic tinkering.
Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times columnist, reported on a research breakthrough that could change the form of warm-blooded species, including humans.
Kristof writes about recent advances in genetic engineering of cattle in which scientists have genetically blocked the production of myostatin, a substance that curbs muscle growth. The result is overmuscled cows without a speck of fat—all without exercising.
The cows look like what Arnold Schwarzennegger would look like if he were from the bovine species. For your own peek at the future, you can look at Belgian Blues here. The photograph would be laughable if the implications weren’t so serious.
When the same genetic engineering was tried on mice, an increase of 15-30 percent in size was noted. Also importantly, the middle-aged, overmuscled mice didn’t lose strength as they aged.
The genetic research was originally intended to help two groups—persons suffering from muscular dystrophy and seniors suffering from weakened muscles as a result of aging.
But once genetic engineering becomes available, do any of us believe it will be limited to those two groups? If steroids are a problem, imagine how the availability of genetic engineering would affect sports. Monday Night Football would become a contest between giants.
Wouldn’t it be tempting to undergo a painless procedure and bypass a lifetime regimen of eating carefully and exercising regularly?
Wouldn’t men find the magic solution hard to resist, given our culture’s emphasis on masculine strength? I’d like to think I wouldn’t succumb to a quick fix, but I’m not certain that I wouldn’t.
The implications for future generations stagger the imagination. Would overmuscled athletes be the norm and people who refuse to change their genetics be freaks? With two-thirds of us being overweight, we currently suffer numerous medical problems. Would those medical problems lessen if the majority of us were trim giants? Or would we create other problems?
Kristof describes a boy who, through an accident of nature, has the human form of the Belgian Blues genetic mutation. At age four, the boy is already setting records for weightlifting with his extraordinary muscling.
Where will the genetic tinkering stop? Probably not with the human race. Wouldn’t we want supersized chickens so eggs would be larger? Wouldn’t we want bigger pigs so hams would double in size? Wouldn’t sheep be supersized so farmers could harvest more wool?
We all know what happened to the tomato when it was reengineered genetically. Commercial tomatoes are thick skinned and frequently tasteless. Would human genetic engineering produce the same unsatisfactory result?
Spared by advancing age the opportunity to tinker with my own genes or alter in utero the genes of my offspring, perhaps I am better off than I know. Given my ambivalence, I don’t even have any useful advice for the next generation.
At least for the foreseeable future, for better or worse, I’m stuck with eating carefully and exercising regularly. To quote Popeye, “I’yam what I’yam.”