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How Researchers Are Trying To Reverse Engineer The Human Body

The book cover for "The Body Builders" by Adam Piore.
HarperCollins
The book cover for "The Body Builders" by Adam Piore.
How Researchers Are Trying To Reverse Engineer The Human Body
How Researchers Are Trying To Reverse Engineer The Human Body GUEST: Adam Piore, author, "The Body Builders"

This is KPBS Midday Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Many of us are trying to preserve the faculties we have. We keep our bodies and brains in peak condition. What if there was something better than peak condition works awake engineer ourselves to be stronger smarter and probably sexier. Adam Peoria has written a new book about research across the country into the reverse engineering of humans in an attempt to augment our abilities. He devotes one chapter 2 the dark narrow science which is working on a memory enhancement pill dubbed of Viagra for the brain. His book is called the bodybuilders. Inside the science of an engineered human. Welcome to the program. Thank you, nice to be here. Who came up with the name Viagra for the brain. That doesn't make a lot of sense. That was from business publications. Back around the turn of the millennium there was some scientific advances in understanding the molecular basis of memory. Three Nobel Prize winners had launched companies with collaborators to try to find a way to come up with memorization bill -- pill imagine how much money you could make, billions of dollars if you had a drug that was the equivalent of Viagra for the brain. Tim Kelly's company in San Diego is one of the last remaining ones. What are they actually working on? They are trying to figure out how to develop a bill that would hack into the human brain and gives the ability to basically have a photographic memory. Weekend memorize something in one try the normally might take us 50 times to memorize. What started this company was that Tim, when he was a researcher at cold Springs, a laboratory in Long Island working at -- with James Watson, Tim managed to actually make fruit flies that had photographic Reporter: -- Recall. They have been working with people that seem to have photographic memories or almost perfect memories to find out how the brain works? Yes. They have launched a worldwide search for people with successional memory. -- With exceptional memory. He has partnered with Mr. dark. They said it would cost about 100 They said it would cost about $100 million a year for 20 years. Dart said that was okay. Their funding a number of efforts. Their funding researchers at academic institutions and every year they have the extreme memory tournament. They summon people who are mental athletes from around the world to compete , a lot of these guys have learned techniques that help memorize things. What they are hoping for is that a perfect natural will enroll and when it and when they explain how they do it they will say I don't know, just look at the things and remember them. When they get enough of these people, they want to take DNA and looks for mutations that could be replicated with artificial drugs to give us that kind of memorization ability. In your book, the bodybuilders, it is not just about the brain, there is another project where scientists is working on rebuilding muscles. Tell us about that. He was an interesting one. He is an expert on muscles. He was speaking a lot at conferences for parents who have children with muscular dystrophy which is just a terrible disease where there is a mutation in the proteins that make up the muscle and kids are missing key shock absorbers. Every time you move, you prepare muscles apart. These parents would come up chilly after his speeches in they would surround him. They were desperate for information they wanted to know why more people were doing something to help their kids. We felt bad that he was not doing something so he began looking for ways using engineering best genetic engineering techniques. He decided there were best discovered there was a single mutation for by a Statin. If you knock out the body's ability to make this protein, you get bigger muscles that you otherwise would have. The idea was that he wanted to give these kids bigger muscles. It doesn't solve the cause of the problem, they will still destroy their own muscles but they will have more time. He made these mice which were dubbed Schwarzenegger mice by the press. They work musclebound mice. He is since diamond in Labrador retrievers. It could help these people. As soon as he published this Tory one Schwarzenegger mice, it got a lot of media attention and he was busy with meathead calls. There was a local football coach that wanted him to do the football team. Let's talk about the ethics concerns that have been raised. There are concerns that only the wealthy could afford treatment to supercharge the memories or make them stronger which would further divide the world into haves and have-nots. What you think of those fears, but a valid? I have lot -- but a lot about the ethics. I want to find out what is happening and how the science works, how it affects people's lives. Want to tell stories of what is going on. People can then decide for themselves as these quandaries come up, what is possible and what they think. In terms of the income inequality, I don't know. It depends on how things unfold in the future. It is a concern and we need to talk about it. People who advocate this stuff, I have heard Ray Kurzweil talk in his responses, look at the cell phone. Only rich people could only -- good before it. It was big and bulky then. Nobody would want that today. As soon as the technology progressed it became commoditized. I have people in developing countries who did not have access to phones because they didn't have infrastructure and land lines. It has been a good thing. Some of these technologies would be so in demand that they might be commoditized. Everyone would have access to them. I'm going to read a quote from your book the ethical concerns were overshadowed in your own mind by the sheer wonder I experience when I actually encountered some of the technologies and considered one of white you like -- what it might be like to be augmented. What did you dream about when you're thinking about that? It is very easy to talk about the ethics from afar. When I actually began to dive into this, it blew my mind so much that I got distracted. You can see how scientists could be intoxicated by the things they are finding. More to the point is that, when I beg -- began reporting this, I was concerned about the ethical implement -- implications. In many cases where these are being used and what is driving this revolution is the desire to help people who have lost something. They want to get that back. That is the urgency and what is funding a lot of these things, the urgency to help people. As a result of that, it is also allowing us to augment each other and see where our lives life. I have been speaking with Adam P are.'s book is the bodybuilders, inside the science of the engineer's human. Thank you.

San Diego's Dart NeuroScience has spent years working on something that still seems like science fiction: a pill that can supercharge your memory with near-perfect recall.

Dart has shown promising results in fruit flies, amping up a protein called CREB that helps strengthen the creation of long-term memories. Dart scientists exposed normal flies to two specific smells, and shocked the flies when they detected one of them. They discovered it took 10 training sessions until the flies learned to fly away from the smell associated with the electric shock. But after enhancing their CREB, Dart's flies learned after just one session.

Dart's discoveries are featured in science journalist Adam Piore's new book, "The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human." He writes about research across the country that looks into improving our strength, speed and intelligence, including new forms of prosthetic limbs and gene treatments to increase muscle mass without steroids.

Piore joined KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday with more on Dart's progress and how scientists are grappling with a potential future where the wealthy can buy superior bodies.