Science

DELIVERED. Homo Machinus, or the dizzying future of augmented humans – sciences et Avenir

Is Homo sapiens at the dawn of a technological (r) evolution? Science fiction has accustomed us to the idea that the human body could be repaired, supplemented, and ultimately augmented by machines. It is about Iron Man’s exoskeleton, RoboCop’s prosthesis, Luke Skywalker’s artificial hand in the Star Wars saga. The problem has become scientific, as demonstrated in his book Homo Machinus (edited by Vuibert) the journalist Nicolás Gutiérrez C. Doctor in cell biology, former researcher and regular collaborator of Sciences et Avenir – La Recherche, interviewed dozens of researchers for a rich experience. Documented research on the question of the augmented human being.

Longevity and life expectancy

One of the most striking sequences of Nicolás Gutiérrez C.’s research refers to questions of longevity. We know that the subject is particularly current: (mega) fortune made, the teachers of Silicon Valley now run into the wall of their finitude, which they do not seem to have to solve. “Remember that you are going to die” said ancient Rome; “He’s the one who says who he is,” seems to respond to Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon and Blue Origin that funds Altos Labs research institute whose goal is eternal rejuvenation.

What if investigators got there? After all, writes Nicolás Gutiérrez C., “the scientific and medical advances of the last centuries have managed to triple the life expectancy of the French, from about 25 years in 1740 to 85 years for women and 79 years for women in 2019. “. Therefore, it is tempting to want to do better. But the mechanical consequence of advancing age is the natural erosion of our organs, causes of diseases that can cause death or the vertiginous degradation of the quality of life. Hence the idea of ​​artificially producing spare parts that would be so many spare parts.

Chimera and pigs

In this sense, two approaches coexist, developed by Nicolás Gutiérrez C. That of biomechanical devices, that is, compatible with the organism of the recipient, but made of artificial materials, such as the famous Carmat heart, a company created in 2008. The other The avenue It consists of growing new organs in test tubes or stimulating their development within organizations close to ours. This is where chimeras come in, to which the author of Homo machinus dedicates edifying pages: “The animal of choice for the production of human organs seems to be the pig. First for a great story, because the size of the organ depends more on the animal. host (…). Then, because of their physiology, very similar to ours. And finally, because they already have an important place in the food industry, their breeding to produce grafts would pose fewer logistical and ethical problems “.

The news has just proved it: in October 2021, a genetically modified pig kidney was successfully implanted in a patient so as not to cause rejection in the human body. This person was brain dead, so the transplant stopped after three days. This means that other steps will have to be taken before the principle is generalized. However, it could happen sooner than you think. “Scientific progress does not advance linearly, but by leaps and bounds, thanks to technological developments that allow accelerating the rate, such as CRISPR, for example. It may be that one stagnates for fifty years, or that chimeras can be created in two or three years ”, says in the book Rosario Sánchez Pernaute, a Spanish researcher specialized in transplants and stem cells … Tomorrow, all Homo cochonus?

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