Superhuman speed on the horizon? Discovery in mouse muscles could make it reality

BEIJING, China — Would you like to have superspeed just like The Flash, Quicksilver, and other comic book heroes? Don’t laugh — your childhood dreams may actually be possible one day! It seems like super speed is already possible — at least among rodents.

Researchers from China report that mice have the potential for “superfast muscles,” making them the mouse equivalent to Barry Allen. Identifying the muscle structure in mouse legs could help in creating future technology that assists in breaking the physical speed limits among normal human arm and leg movements.

In the animal world, superfast muscles are not uncommon. The wings in hummingbirds and tails in rattlesnakes have developed fast-twitching muscles — the same muscles athletes use for competitive sports like sprinting. When it comes to superfast muscles, however, there’s little human research on the topic. The only evidence of superfast muscles in humans is in the eye — where they control rapid eye movement.

Nerve stimulation could ‘supercharge’ muscles

In the current study, the research team used “a new technology called single-cell metabolomic imaging,” according to senior author Ng Shyh Chang, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters, in a media release. The high-tech machinery allows scientists to study the cells in frozen slices of mouse leg muscles.

The imaging of mouse muscles shows several metabolic signatures. These are groups of biochemicals created during cell metabolism and are only found in superfast muscles. The superfast cells in mouse legs also show high levels of metabolites and genes associated with physical training and oxidative muscles — fatigue-resistant muscles used during endurance exercises like triathlons and rowing.

Based on the findings, the study authors hypothesized that repeated stimulation of the nerves in mouse legs could eventually form superfast muscles similar to those that control eye movements. If we’re trying to dream big, this could be the start of a superhuman society where physical limits are a thing of the past.

The findings appear in the journal Science Advances.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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