Super Babies Reveal the Key to Strength Gene

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It’s known as myostatin, but it might as well be called kryptonite, because it’s what keeps each of us feeling like Clark Kent. This protein tells your muscles when to stop growing, and in the last few years we’ve seen two babies born with a mutant gene that prevents them from producing enough myostatin. The result? Super Babies. And like any amazing mutation, scientists are studying it to see if, and how, we could all become as muscle bound as these tots.

Two super babies have the gene for rapid muscle growth.

Can a baby unlock the gene for strength?

The first super baby was born in Germany in 2004. Though his name was never released, pictures demonstrated that his young physique contained almost twice as much muscle as other infants. Look ahead to fall 2005 in Michigan, Mr. and Mrs. Hoekstra adopt a young boy named Liam. Soon he is growing muscle at an astounding rate. Hanging on rings in an iron cross position by 5 months, pull-ups by 9 months, Liam is the second super baby. His condition, now known as myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy, makes him hungry, lean, and strong. Check out his pic after the break.

With Liam, scientists had further proof that a genetic mutation could exist that causes a human to naturally build muscle. Without even trying, Liam has little to no body fat, can lift seven pound weights arms extended (he only weighs 30 lbs himself) and has a six-pack. Now nearly four, Liam is taking gymnastic lessons, but this is more of an outlet for his energy than an explanation for his physique. No doubts, it’s the lack of myostatin that’s helping him get ripped.

super-strength-babies

The Protein to End All Proteins

Blocking myostatin has been shown to have drastic effects in animals besides humans. Myostatin tests in labs have pumped up mice to Schwarzenegger proportions.

A whippet named Wendy has a bizarre condition that has slowed her myostatin production. A strain of cattle known as Belgian Blue are predisposed to genetic conditions that lower production of the protein…and wow, you can really tell. Looking at photos of each of these animals, I’m struck by the near absurdity of their pumpitude. It’s like someone delivered free weights to the zoo.

Which isn’t to say that the applications for myostatin blocking would be absurd. Doctors, like Louis Kunkel of the Children’s hospital in Boston, have long been searching for cures for muscular dystrophy (MD). It’s the most common genetic disease and few sufferers live into adulthood. A myostatin blocker could help these children survive and perhaps even live normal lives. All it might take is relatively small changes in the level of the protein: 20-50%.

super-strength-myostatin-pig-dog-animal

Yet, when you type ‘myostatin’ into Google you don’t get web forums dedicated to curing muscular dystrophy. Since breakthrough research in 1997 by Alexandra McPherron, Se-Jin Lee, and Ravi Kambadur proved the effects of myostatin, the discussion has focused on one topic: blocking myostatin in order to get ripped. Buff. Cut. However you grunt it, the draw to have a treatment that creates muscle – with little exercise needed – is outweighing the medical pursuits of MD cures. Now that a human gene has been linked to myostatin-blocking I can only predict that such demand will increase dramatically. Expectedly, we can already buy “myostatin-blockers” as a workout supplement. Obviously I can’t comment on the veracity of the claims made by these products, but you may want to think about them in the same vein as other…er… ‘enlargement’ offers you receive online.

Women and Super Children First

Liam’s mother has been hesitant to allow press into her young son’s life. Rightfully she fears that the coverage would turn Liam’s existence into a circus. Even further ensconced in anonymity, the German super baby isn’t giving any interviews. However well they are shrouded from the public, however, they’ve been genetically sampled and will undoubtedly continued to be so as they mature. Using this information, it isn’t a matter of if the myostatin gene could be modified in others, it’s a matter of when.

So the demand is there, and the possibility is coming. What will it mean to have an available genetic treatment which will permanently make you able to build muscle with little effort? First, I hope it means sufferers form MD, AIDS, and other debilitating diseases will find relief from muscle atrophy. Secondly, maybe not trivially, it will mean a new series of anti-doping tests at sporting competitions. But most importantly it will be a sign that humans will be on their way to modifying their bodies to fit their lives and not the other way around.

myostatin-mice-muscle-strength

From the 1997 study on myostatin blocking in mice. The hypertrophy is clear in two subjects.

 

Just recently Singularity Hub has discussed growing organs, stem cell treatments, and a wide host of bionic body augmentations (even some not so bionic additions). Genetic manipulation, however, is the real holy grail of the body-crafting endeavor. Much of this pursuit has focused on understanding the purpose of each sequence of the genome. But with myostatin, some of that completeness may be deemed unnecessary. Most people won’t be interested in discovering what a million different genes do when changing just one gives them the ideal athletes body.

That’s a recipe for disaster. We hope that Liam Hoekstra has a happy healthy life. But knowing the effects of other kinds of unchecked growth can include tough health problems, we should expect a price to come with his amazing gifts (remember Andre the Giant). We do not fully know the effects of myostatin on smooth and cardiac muscle. Organ development may benefit or be stunted. As researchers are quick to point out, ligament and tendon strength do not necessarily coincide with muscle strength. Liam already has to work a little harder on getting the flexibility common to children his age.

Myostatin genes have to be understood in the larger context before they can become part of a general genetic engineering lexicon. Let’s hope the demand for work-free muscle building will be controlled enough to wait for it. Before we can build super men we’ll have to get them the old fashioned way: by letting super babies grow up on their own.

Good luck, Liam, and watch out for Lex Luthor.

Good luck, Liam, and watch out for Lex Luthor.

Discussion — 14 Responses

  • HomeLover July 1, 2009 on 3:48 pm

    dude, I need something to block myostatin. It is incredible what this can do. Look at those animals!

    • Shoop HomeLover December 14, 2010 on 4:06 am

      There’s a reason why our bodies don’t block it in Wt people…

  • HomeLover July 1, 2009 on 11:48 am

    dude, I need something to block myostatin. It is incredible what this can do. Look at those animals!

  • David July 1, 2009 on 7:05 pm

    A good follow up story can be found in Science daily.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080122165601.htm

    It discuss that the mice(same as above photo) where developing small, brittle tendons that could make muscle injuries more likely. Considering what programmers and scientist really need (stronger joints, particularly the wrists) maybe people should be looking at Myostatin boosters.

  • David July 1, 2009 on 3:05 pm

    A good follow up story can be found in Science daily.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080122165601.htm

    It discuss that the mice(same as above photo) where developing small, brittle tendons that could make muscle injuries more likely. Considering what programmers and scientist really need (stronger joints, particularly the wrists) maybe people should be looking at Myostatin boosters.

  • Eric Scionti December 9, 2009 on 12:43 pm

    This is amazing!

  • Eric Scionti December 9, 2009 on 8:43 am

    This is amazing!

  • Mountain September 9, 2010 on 4:44 pm

    Very cool, this may explain my family. I can sit around and do nothing and I am three times the size and strength of everyone else. Does anyone know what chromosome this mutation occurs on? My son seems to have this as well, he is 25th percentile in height and 70th percentile in wt at 7yrs old with less than 1% body fat. Awsome ..I have always hoped my son would be like me, if this is the case it is almost guaranteed. Real question is does this also cause a heart condtion, my son is already having the heart I did as a child, and I have had two heart attacks by age 40, though they didn’t do much damage and my heart is still in better shape most peoples. If any knows any of the medical details of all this post it on here…please.

  • Mountain September 9, 2010 on 5:06 pm

    To those who wrote this article, if I do indeed have this mutation, I can answer some of your concerns about ligament and tendon, bone and smooth muscle questions. I have caused numerous injuries to myself using my strength, from dislocated joints, stress fractures in bones, and ligament injuries. I have have a bit of a problem in heart, 1. My heart commonly ran in the in the 220 to 230 range when I was a teenager and still will if I am not carefull. 2. My heart has regular problems with not being in proper time. This results in a chronic low oxigen state which is further exacerbated by having a great deal of muscle tissue to feed O2 to. I always thought that the low O2 state might be what causes me to create so much muscle tissue, beings low O2 causes muscle damage then when you catch up on O2 it repairs itself. Another problem with being so densly muscled is that it is impossible to float in water, I quite literally sink like a stone so does everyone in my family. My father used to joke that if he were in six feet of water he was a dead man. Another thing to look at is organ developement, my kidneys are only about 60% developed at age 14 and still now at 41 do not operate at normal capacity. If given the choice to be as I am or like everyone else, I would have to say I wouldn’t even consider being like every one else. I was on the verge of being an Olympic level athlete at 14 yrs old, I was stronger than any adult I knew at that age, while I was a very short, about 5ft 2 at 14, I weighed 175 pounds and had less than 1% body fat was able to bench 300 pounds what boy wouldn’t want to be like that. I am just thankfull that I kept growing until I was 22 and finally reached a hieght of 5 ft 10, as I have gotten older I have slowed down like everyone does, but I still wiegh 200 pounds and can still bench over 300 pounds and now that I know how to get around most of my heart troubles with diet and lifestyle I look forward to a long life of still being very impressive into old age. I would like to meet this young guy and give him pointers on diet and eating which would help him get past low O2 levels better.

    • John William Dale III Mountain April 24, 2011 on 9:08 am

      i dont believe you. the first thing that created a red flag for me was if you have less then 1% body fat, you will be dead!

      The restriction of fat intake in dieting has been a long standing principle used for weight loss and weight control. Biochemically speaking, fats are the most precious energy reserve in the body. This is due to the fact that it has the highest energy (or caloric) value. Aside for being more efficient in energy generation, fat is stored on the body without water, so it does not weigh as much as protein (muscle). So a human can have more energy stores and carry less weight with fat than with any other source of energy.

      “The interesting thing about fat is that the body can actually build fat out of excessive consumption of carbohydrates or protein. Once carbohydrates or protein are converted to fat, they can not be converted back. So it can be very difficult to loose the fat once it is stored. This is why some ‘non fat’ diets are not effective. If you eat too much protein or carbohydrate, they will fill the reserves initially and then the body will convert the extra calories into fat!”

      (http://www.weightawareness.com/topics/doc.xml?__topic_id=111&doc_id=1279)

      “Hello all,

      Was searching through some of the posts and found this one, I found some of its contents a tad extreme so I thought I’d pass comment.

      Lowering your body weight below 5% (from 10-4%) would not be recommended, anything lower than this and you would be jeopardising fat levels your body requires for normal daily functions. Fats comprise hormones, store vitamins, and play vital roles in immune function etc so should not always be viewed as the enemy.

      Restricting your caloric intake to 900Kcals would also not be recommended (compare this to the caloric intake of pro soccer players which research has shown is around 3,000Kcal). As mentioned in an earlier post you simply wouldn’t have the energy to engage in exercise and maintain healthy bodily functions. Another important point to make is that you would be using lean tissue (ie muscle) as an energy source, which would have a negative impact upon sports performance, your aesthetics and health.”

      (http://www.pponline.co.uk/forum/talk-performance/lowering-body-fat-as-quickly-as-possible)

      i seriously doubt you are 2% body fat. the world record was 2%. i suggest you go to a doctor to get this accurately measured. back to the original question, ‘yes’ not having enough fat in your diet is unhealthy, the reason for this is because you need to eat fat for lubrication of your internal organs. however having 2% body fat itself isn’t unhealthy if you are that lean due to exercise and have good muscle development. the fat we carry around our midsection and on other parts of our body is no use to us, other than to keep us warm. just make sure that you are eating enough fat in your diet for your internal organs sake.

      (http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110114155252AA3hwSe)

      so pretty much if you have no fat you will have no energy, therefore if you have no energy you would not be able to do anything, and you would get sick from such a low fat percentage. 2% is the lowest recorded body fat percentage and all pro bodybuilders never try to go below 4% and they only stay there for about a week, then they start loading on the fat again to gain more muscle. there is absolutely no way you are below 1% body fat, you wouldnt even be able to run a mile.

  • Mile September 22, 2010 on 4:57 pm

    another statin? causing troubles ? yet the highest proscribed and prescribed medicines? are statins??????/

  • Richard October 1, 2010 on 2:31 am

    I saw this documentary about Liam the other day. It’s very odd. I immediately was intrigued but it’s more than that…That same night I had very restless sleep. I dreamt about spending time with him and his family. We were swimming. I love to swim and according to the documentary so does he. I just think it’s odd that I feel such a bond for this kid and his family. There are some similarities between me and him. He’s “disabled” or born with an abnormality. And so was I. Though it’s not the same. I’m legally blind. I can see but just not that well. I can’t drive and I wear glasses. I usually do get intrigued by people that can do extrodinary things that I can’t (other than just drive. Any idiot can do that :p). But this is different. The dreams just felt so real and vivid which is weird because I usually have very strange and surreal dreams. Oh another thing that really hit home with me about this great kid is he was adopted. Well when I was very young my mom put me up for adoption but for whatever reason she kept me. Kinda weird. I just think he’s an inspiration to me. I use to be morbidly obese. I was 430lbs. Over 3 years ago I had gastric bypass surgery. Now I’m about 300 pounds smaller but I have to work on maintaining what I have. And I’d love to get rid of this gross loose skin without more surgery but it’s hard for me to get fit because I’m poor and food is so expensive. And you have to eat to lose weight. I have to remember that… All I can do is excersize some every day to stay where I’m at and be thankful I’m not where I was and I’m not going back! :) Anyway I hope he lives a long happy/healthy life and I’ll be praying for him and his family! :)

  • Shoop December 14, 2010 on 4:10 am

    By the way, I think you are doing a cool thing here , but with staff that have a mere MS or BS in the sciences, don’t you think you are getting a little too over-ambitious here? I get that you are passionate about these topics, but most of your website seems to be about your own opinions, which plebeian minds seem to blindly follow. I’m not trying to say that scientific news can’t be reported by non-PhD’s, but for a site that markets itself as Genetics, etc., this is dangerous to do. Although this is a step above regular news sites, this is definitely no “Nature” or other reputable publishing sites. Beware.

  • JMO July 4, 2013 on 1:02 am

    The most well documented case of the myostatin gene is in the Piedmontese cattle. This particular trait led to farmers documenting their herds since the 1870s.