If you look at humans like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, or Venus Williams (and to a lesser extent, Serena), you might be forgiven for thinking we’ve reached our very peak as a species.
Yet we’ve got our problems. A lot of them. Over millions of years of evolution, we’ve picked up some less than ideal characteristics.
We have evolved the ability to walk on two legs, and have larger brains than our primate cousins, which are obviously both pretty useful. However, these shifts may have caused our pelvises to get smaller, right when our skulls got bigger. The result is that humans experience extremely painful childbirth, while primates give birth and then pretty much immediately walk it off like nothing just crawled out of their body.
Our ability to walk on two legs also may have led to the back pain that we often experience in later years. We evolved an S-shaped spine, which isn’t the best at coping with our own weight.
“If you take care of it, your spine will get you through to about 40 or 50,” anatomist Bruce Latimer told Science Magazine. “After that, you’re on your own.”
As well as this, we have throats that are prone to choking, and hearing and eyesight that, for a huge number of us, won’t last our entire lifetime.
So what would it look like if we could pick and choose how we evolved?
For a new program on BBC4 in the UK, anatomist Professor Alice Roberts has taken a look at some animal characteristics and decided what we should steal for ourselves to create the perfect superhuman.
“Inspired by dogs, cats, cephalopods, fish, swans and chimps, my model has a better heart with more arteries than a human being, lungs that are more efficient, eyes with no blindspots, ears that pick up sound better, legs that are more efficient, and reptilian skin which reacts fast to block damaging ultraviolet rays,” Roberts wrote in The Daily Mail, promoting the program.
The result is this, the ultimate human, the best thing that evolution or genetic engineering could ever hope to achieve.
In the program Can Science Make Me Perfect? Roberts and a team from London’s Science Museum created a 3D model of her using parts from other animals, producing a superbeing. The body includes bat ears and a handy kangaroo pouch to keep our young in.
“I traded agility for speed when I altered my legs and replaced my feet – and that means my chances of climbing a mountain are zero. But I think it’s worth it – even though I screamed when I saw the final 3D model of my creation,” she explained.
“On reflection, I don’t like the look of the bird-like legs. But having given birth to two children, I’m a big fan of having the kangaroo’s pouch.”
Can Science Make Me Perfect? airs on BBC4 on Wednesday at 9pm.