Brave New Body

The future of human performance     Photo: Illustrations by Bryan Christie

One lesser-known benefit of training: it makes you smarter. How? Exercise boosts production of the poetically named neural protein noggin, which results in healthier stem cells in the brain. Without enough noggin, neural cells stop dividing and don't create new tissue: your brain literally shrinks. Need more convincing? Scientists synthesized the stuff and injected it into the brains of mice, which subsequently aced rodent intelligence tests.

Help may be on the way for athletes with spinal injuries. Scientists are working on a tiny wireless device that, when implanted in the brain, can send electrical impulses signaling movement directly to artificial limbs, bypassing damaged nervous systems. The gadget is being tested on monkeys, and a similar technology could someday allow paralyzed humans to regain control of their bodies.

You are what your parents (and grandparents) ate, according to epigenetics, the newest branch of gene research. Diet turns certain genes on or off and changes how others express proteins, affecting metabolism and muscle function—instructions that can be transmitted to offspring. When male mice were fattened on high-calorie chow, they sired pups predisposed to obesity. Similarly, when pregnant mice were underfed, their offspring were born with metabolic abnormalities that, a generation later, appeared in their children's babies.

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