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Science goes to the movies: Deadpool

Friday, May 20, 2016

In episode #213 of the CUNY video series Science Goes to the Movies, Christopher Mason, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Computational Genomics, talks about Deadpool, released in February 2016. 

To start, Mason talks about his appreciation for comic books and mutants and how that led him to the work he does now in genetics. Then he talks about his current study of astronaut Scott Kelly to determine the molecular effects of longtime space travel, including the effects of stress on genetics, and whether or not Kelly gained any time relative to people on Earth. The distinction between genetics and epigenetics is considered next.

The immortality of the character of Deadpool is talked about next, and how realistic it is to slow down or stop aging, as well a cellular definition of aging. The reason humans cannot regenerate severed limbs is explained, including a definition of terminally differentiated cells and a comparison to the way in which the human liver is able, in part, to regenerate. Cellular memory and how it might be reset and reprogrammed is also considered. 

Next, George Daley’s 2013 discovery of the “healing gene” in genetically modified mice – quickly dubbed “The Wolverine Gene” – leads to discussion of manipulating cells back to age zero so that they can be made to regrow. The work of author and biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is considered next, specifically his theory that advances in technology will soon make it possible to significantly lengthen human life. Reengineering the genome or epigenome is looked at as necessary to such a goal, as well as the Transhumanism movement that is exploring these possibilities. 

A psychological diagnosis of Deadpool is offered next, including a consideration of a neurological condition that makes people unable to stop making jokes. The effect of super-healing neurons, as depicted in the movie, on the functionality of the brain is discussed. A hyperactive, continually-growing brain like Deadpool’s is considered for its potential to cause mental illness.

A comparison of the accelerated regeneration of cells that keep Deadpool alive to that of the cancerous cells that threaten his life comes next. Cancer is explained as an accelerated growth that goes unchecked, and Mason shares his thoughts on whether a cancer cell can be made to return to its state as a normal healthy cell or “redirected” back to health. The show ends with a discussion of the recent surge of discoveries in genetic science.