Are superheroes real? The idea may not be too far-fetched and the X-man or superman that stuns us with their magical feats may be more than just fictional creations.

In an extensive study of more than 589,000 genomes, US researchers have revealed there could be 13 genetic “superhumans” who may not have retractable claws but are actually perfectly healthy mortals. Despite carrying in their DNA a mutation linked to a severe childhood disorder, they have remained immune to their genetic variants and are unaware of their extra powers.

Dr Daniel MacArthur of Massachusetts General Hospital said, “The researchers could not re-contact the majority of resilient individuals for further study because of a lack of necessary consent forms. “Finding genetic superheroes will require other kinds of heroism - a willingness of participants to donate their genomic and clinical data and a commitment by researchers and regulators to overcome the daunting obstacles to data sharing on a global scale.”

Here are some of the extraordinary powers that some humans possess.

1. Lightning speed

It is difficult to believe that humans can move faster than a speeding bullet or soar among the stars and so it is more comforting that screen superheroes remain fictional. Though some claim being a fast runner is all about training, geneticists say that it has to do with the gene ACTN3 which, though present in every human body, mutates in only a small percentage, and produces a special protein, alpha-actinin-3, responsible for controlling the fast-twitch muscle fibres that allow us to run.

Increased amounts lead to more explosive bursts of muscle power, and thus better performance, especially in sprinting. This gene has two versions and those who have both perform consistently better than those with conventional chromosomes.

2. Special strength

Genetic disorders do not necessarily lead to physical frailty. Swinging to the other side of the bell curve, it could result in enormous strength as in the case of two babies born with a rare genetic disorder that results in a protein deficiency. The lack of myostatin causes these babies to have larger muscles with little body fat, and this equips them with power beyond the average human.

The first baby was born in Germany in 2004 with twice as much muscle as other babies. In 2005, Mr. and Mrs. Hoekstra from Michigan adopted a young boy, Liam who had muscles developing at an incredible rate. By the age of five months, he could hang on rings in an iron-cross position and by nine months, he was already doing pull-ups. Diagnosed as having myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy, Liam is lean and strong and eats more than other babies of his age.

3. Unbreakable bones

In the movie “Unbreakable”, Bruce Willis’s character discovered nothing could kill him after he survived a train wreck. Beyond the screen, a man known only as John escaped unhurt when he crashed his car. His X-rays showed no internal bleeding and no fractures. The doctor in the hospital concluded he had bones that are eight times denser than the average adult.

Six years later, another doctor discovered another Bruce whose hip replacement failed as nobody could screw the prosthesis in place. When these two doctors compared notes and traced their family histories, they found that both were related, and that not one member of the Connecticut family had had a broken bone. After much research, doctors concluded that the high-bone density stems from a mutation of LRP5, the gene linked to osteoporosis and low-bone density.

The bones of mortals may be hardy but not indestructible, except if the special LRP5 gene is present. Researchers believe this gene mutation could lead to super strong bones, and hope this could be used to treat bone disease.

4. Stunning flexibility

Superheroes amaze the audience with their outrageous flexibility where they could dislocate joints to twist their body into unbelievably bizarre shapes. Humans who can do likewise are born with Marfan Syndrome, a spectrum disease where mutations in the gene responsible for producing the protein fibrillin-1 cause the body to create connective tissues that lend them the flexibility.

However, these individuals tend to have unusually long limbs and facial disfigurements. This may lead to complications with the skeleton, nervous system and the heart, which may be life-threatening in some cases.

5. Shock-resistant body

Some people are blessed with genes that protect them from electric shocks. While the average human has millions of sweat glands, which allow electricity to penetrate the body, Serbian man Slavisa Pajkic has none because of his rare genetic make-up.

Known as “Battery Man”, Paikic has the ability to cook food and boil water simply by passing electricity over his body. He shocks the public when he sets things on fire using this power, and has gained much popularity. He uses this special power which is said to treat various ailments like migraines and back pain in Serbia. MIMS

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