The Future of Flesh

Science, technology, and life.
April 1 2008 8:06 PM

The Future of Flesh

One thing I hope to do in this blog is to keep connecting news stories and trends to each other. It's not enough to mock the idea of a civil right to body piercings. The larger theme of today's earlier post was the difference between necessary and elective body parts, and the difference between flesh and metal.

Both of those differences touch on an article in the current issue of Scientific American . Right now, the best we can do for amputees is fit them with prostheses designed to approximate normal limb motion. Such limbs don't feel anything, which in turn makes it harder to learn how to use them. The ideal solution isn't to outfit these people like cyborgs; it's to give them good old flesh. That's what the authors-Ken Muneoka, Manjong Han, and David Gardiner-are working on. They conclude that "we may be only a decade or two away from a day when we can regenerate human body parts."

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The path will require many steps. At the moment, the authors are still working on inducing basic regeneration in mice. Growing larger structures-paws, and later arms-will be progressively more difficult. But in principle, the project should be doable, since it's modeled on an animal that already regenerates its own limbs: the salamander.

If we're going to start handing out new bodily civil rights, as the nipple-ring lawyer proposes, I'd put replacement flesh way ahead of ornamental metal.

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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