The perfect body, it turns out, isn’t cracking on in the Love Island villa – it’s going on display at the Science Museum.
In their current form, our bodies are riddled with physical flaws: we have backs that ache, throats that choke us, skin that gets damaged, ears that go deaf… we are imperfect, to say the least.
So what does the perfect body look like? Professor Alice Roberts, a physical anthropologist, has conducted a scientific experiment to create a body tailor-made for life in the 21st century. And now her fascinating journey is being shown in a one-off documentary – Can Science Make Me Perfect? – on BBC4.
Alice 2.0 is a redesign of Roberts’ own body, created with the help of a virtual anatomical artist and an expert prosthetics sculptor, inspired by other animals’ most useful features.
Roberts’ creation has skin which can change instantly between pale and dark – to ensure she would make enough vitamin D with her lighter skin in the British winter, while switching colour in summertime to prevent skin damage – as well as a marsupial pouch, ostrich legs, cat ears, octopus eyes and a chimpanzee spine.
Check out the bizarre end result below – Roberts screamed when she first saw it – and read her explanations of what each new characteristic does…
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“When I asked what people would change about their bodies on Twitter, the birthing process was an extremely popular response!,” says Roberts. “Our large-headed babies can make childbirth tricky for some. But what if we’d evolved from marsupials – from animals like kangaroos who give birth to their young very early, and then keep them in a pouch until they’re ready to be independent of the mother?”
“Our ape legs make us great generalists – we can walk, run and climb. But when you try to do too many things at once, you can end up with problems. The human knee is complex and prone to failure in a variety of ways; there’s a lot of muscle mass low down in the legs which makes moving them fairly inefficient.
“I’ve taken my inspiration from ostriches, which are bipedal, like us, but extremely good at running. Muscles move closer to the centre of the body, leaving the feet light and easy to move. Large tendons provide shock absorption.”
“We lose high frequency hearing as we age. To tackle this, we looked at amplifying the sound coming into the ears in the first place. And I think large, feline ears look amazing.”
“The way that our eyes have evolved is enshrined in their embryonic development, and the retina is ‘backwards’. The light receptors are at the back; the nerve fibre ‘wires’ take off at the front, and then have to converge on a spot where they pierce through and exit the eye – the optic disc – which creates a blind spot. Our brains fill in this blind spot so that we’re not aware of it.
“But how about we wire up the eye sensibly and avoid the blind spot in the first place? Octopi do just that, so we’ve copied their anatomy for the eye. To improve eyesight further, we have also made the eyeballs themselves just a little bit larger.”
“Our long, flexible lumbar spines are great in many ways – they help us to run efficiently, for instance. But they have their drawbacks. The lumbar vertebrae are under great strain, and as we age, the ligaments that hold the pulpy centres of the intervertebral discs in place dry out. The pulp can be pushed out and the herniated disc can press on nerves and cause back pain and sciatica.
“As a sufferer of a slipped disc, I’d like to opt for a ‘chimpanzee fix’ here, reducing the lumbar spine from five to four vertebrae, and building up the iliac wings of the pelvis to stabilise the spine even more. I’m sacrificing my waist here, but I think the biomechanical advantages are worth it.”
To see Alice 2.0 in the flesh, head down to the Science Museum in London from Thursday 14th June where the perfect body will be on display in the Who Am I? gallery.
Can Science Make Me Perfect is on Wednesday 13th June at 9pm on BBC4