Could we create a real-life superhero by changing human biology itself? The form and function of the human body, once entirely delimited by nature, are now fluid concepts thanks to recent advances in biomedical science and engineering. Professor, author, and comic book enthusiast E. Paul Zehr uses Marvel’s Captain America — an ordinary man turned into an extraordinary hero, thanks to a military science experiment — as an entry-point to this brave new world of science, no longer limited to the realm of fiction. With our ever-expanding scientific and technological prowess, human biological adaptability is now in our fallible human hands. Thanks to the convergence of biology, engineering, and technology, we can now alter our abilities through surgery, pharmaceutical enhancement, technological fusion, and genetic engineering. Written in an accessible manner, Chasing Captain America explores these areas and more, asking what the real limits of being human are, how far we should bend those limits, and how we may be forced to reshape human biology if we are to colonize planets like Mars.
Zehr (Project Superhero), director of the Centre for Biomedical Research at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, introduces readers to various existential threats that could potentially follow from attempts to create a real-life equivalent to Captain America. He methodically compares the theoretical requirements for creating a supersoldier with current science's ability to satisfy them. The major theme is how procedures intended to alter disabilities, some of which could be applied to the general population to enhance natural performance to superhuman levels, might contribute to actual threats to humankind, such as unintended mutations or even unforeseen consequences of intended ones affecting entire populations. Despite any ethical dilemmas, Zehr argues scientists must push forward, albeit with thoughtfulness and caution. The level of detail required to discuss various scientific concepts frequently forces him to digress significantly from the Captain America metaphor, and some attempts to maintain the comics connection feel forced and inadequate. This is, however, a good introduction for readers unfamiliar with recent scientific developments in biotechnology, bioengineering, and synthetic biology. Agents: Sam Hiyate and Ali McDonald, Rights Factory.