Before Super Man comes the Super Mouse!
American scientists have created a genetically modified 'super mouse' that boasts of astounding physical capabilities.
The mouse can run for almost four miles at a steady speed of 20 metres per minute, without stopping for five hours or more.
Let's put it in human terms, then. Imagine cycling at speed up the Swiss Alps without a halt. This is the equivalent of what the super mouse does.
If men are delighted at what this means for their physical prowess, here's a bit of news to delight the female hearts.
The genetically modified mouse eats up to 60 per cent more food than the normal rodent but it doesn't add a single ounce to its body weight.
To thrill both the genders, is the news that the new mouse lives longer and enjoys an active sex life into a ripe old age retaining its breeding capacity at three times the usual maximum age.
American scientists now have a breeding colony of 500 of such mice.
The super mouse was created as a result of a standard genetic modification to a metabolism gene mice share with humans. This gene is involved in glucose metabolism and, when altered, leads to efficient use of body fat for producing more energy. Usually, when this happens, there's a build-up of lactic acid in the body, leading to muscle cramps which athletes know all about, but the genetically modified mice are immune to this.
Even as you gawk at what this development means for enhancing human physical capacity some day, scientists are quick to say that it now becomes possible to develop new drugs that could one day boost athletic performances.
Richard Hanson, professor of biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University at Cleveland, Ohio, who led a 15-strong team of researchers, likened the super mice to Lance Armstrong cycling up the Pyrenees. But, 'On the downside, they eat twice as much as other mice, but are half the weight, and are very aggressive. Why they are, we are not really sure,' Hanson was quoted as saying in the Independent, London.
The results of the research are being published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Hanson also told the Independent: 'We humans have exactly the same gene, but it's not something you'd do to a human. We do not think this mouse model is an appropriate one for human gene therapy, it would not be ethical to even try.'
If you are wondering why do the research at all if the end result is not to be used for human benefit, the aim of the study was really to get a better understanding of an enzyme known as PEPCK-C, present mainly in the liver and kidneys. What genetic modification did was to lead to up to 100 times the usual concentration of this enzyme in muscles, when compared to an ordinary mouse.
The scientists clearly did not expect the physical and behavioural changes this genetic modification has led to. Normally scientists have to resort to blood tests and the like for spotting the result of genetic alteration, but not in this case. The super mice were rather easy to spot soon after birth, popping around the cage like and consuming more food.
Although there have been other cases of genetically modified animals the Beltsville pig being the most famous, which had a human gene inserted to make it grow faster. It did, all right, but perished due to severe bone and joint problems this is the first time researchers have come so close to creating almost a super species.