Ideal human or Frankenstein fantasy? Scientist creates 'perfect body' with emu legs & dog heart
The evolutionary journey from apes to the upwardly mobile and chatty homosapiens of today has been impressive but not entirely plain sailing. Cartilage in knee joints degrade with every passing decade, the heart’s pulmonary arteries are open to attack from fatty plague, while the plumbing within a human neck is a choking hazard waiting to happen.
All these design flaws are tackled in the latest project by University of Birmingham anatomist Alice Roberts in her “weird artistic” attempt to explore the evolution of the world’s most complex creatures.
The result is a rather freakish looking 3D printed version of Roberts, complete with a chimp’s spine, octopus refined retinas, pointed ears, and the legs of a speeding emu bird.
The scientist even had a go at re-engineering the epiglottis – a trap door protecting your windpipe from incoming food – to create a choke proof throat.
Speaking to RT.com, Roberts explained how the project – which melded 3D printing technology with attributes from the animal kingdom – began with a challenge from London’s Science Museum. From there she set out upon a three-month quest which saw her essentially weed out the problems with which evolution has burdened us. The bizarre and engaging journey was chronicled in the BBC show ‘Can Science Make Me Perfect?’
With a team of experts to choose from, including 3D designer Scott Eaton, MRI experts from the Cheltenham Cobalt Imaging Center, and professionals at the Royal Veterinary Campus, Roberts’ alien-looking model is astonishing.
In an effort to build an imagined body capable of withstanding harmful UV rays, Roberts even took inspiration from the skin of amphibians at London Zoo. There is also space for a marsupial pouch, included to make the birthing process more bearable since kangaroo babies come to term when they are the size of a humble jellybean.
“Essentially we were looking to iron out some of the evolutionary glitches or design flaws in the human body,” Roberts said. One such human feature to get an upgrade was the heart. Since a human’s blood enters into the heart from just one artery, it means the chances of a fatal blockage is high. In Roberts’s 3D printed model, collateral heart vessels of a dog were suggested to combat this widespread pulmonary threat.
“We did end up with a weird artistic idea of what our body could be like if we were to iron out some of those glitches. I was quite surprised when I saw her [the 3D model] because I was feeding all my suggestions through to the designer and I only saw some of the early stages of the sculpture before it was unveiled.”
Another striking element of the re-engineered human was the introduction of the shock absorbing pins of an emu. While not opposed to her human legs, the British anatomist explored whether having the limbs of a bird would eradicate knee pain and boost running power.
“At the heart of the artistic project was to make modifications to the human body that highlight the imperfections which have come about because we are an evolved animal,” Roberts added.
“We wanted to show that the body isn’t perfect. This is what evolution does, it creates organisms that perform in the here and now. Evolution is about making a body that works, it’s not about perfection.”
By Luke Holohan