What makes superhero comics and superhero movies so amazing? The primary reason is because they feature superheroes that possess powers we could only dream of having. Whether it’s telepathy, flight, psychokinesis, shapeshifting, superhuman strength, or some other super-cool power, at one point, we all wished we had some extraordinary power that would make us special from other people.
For us humans, the things that make one different from someone else can be as simple as hair color, eye color, or height. Unlike some other species, our genes are pretty similar to one another…at least for most people.
Fantasy powers like the ones mentioned above only exist in fiction. Spider bites don’t give you special powers like Spider-Man and we’re not secretly descended from an alien race that possesses an amazing set of abilities. However, not all of the powers that exist in fiction only exist in fiction. There are some cases of people having special abilities in real life. After all, all it takes is one mutation of a certain gene or the complete absence of a certain gene for someone to develop a unique ability that not many people have.
The special abilities people have on this list may not be as impressive as something like invisibility, X-ray vision, or clairvoyance, but they’re still extraordinary in their own right. If you want to see what some of these abilities are, then check out this list of 15 incredible abilities gained from rare genetic mutations.
15. Unbreakable Bones
You may think having adamantium-level unbreakable bones only exist in comics, but such an ability can happen in real life.
In our bodies is a gene known as low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5, commonly shortened to LRP5. Mutations in this gene can either be really good or really bad. If they’re really bad, then they can cause deteriorating diseases like osteoporosis which make bones fragile and brittle. But if the mutations are really good, then the bone density will increase to unbelievably high levels, making the bones impossible to break.
One such person with this condition was able to walk away from a horrific car accident without a single broken bone. No one in his entire family, not even his 93-year-old grandfather, had ever broken a bone. One side effect of this mutation is that people with it will also have bony protruding growths on the roof of their mouth.
14. Invulnerability To A Brain Disease
There’s a reason why cannibalism is frowned upon in most societies.
During the middle of the 20th century, an epidemic ravaged the tribespeople of Papua New Guinea. It was an epidemic of Kuvu, a degenerative and fatal brain disease that was contracted through the consumption of human flesh. Kuru destroys the brain, fills it with sponge-like holes that greatly diminish memory and intellect, causes changes in personality, and induces seizures. Those who become afflicted with the disease die within a year.
But just like any virus, there are always people who are immune to it. Those who were resistant to kuru had a genetic mutation in the gene G127V that made them resistant to the disease. The gene is now prevalent among the Fore people and the surrounding peoples in one of the strongest cases of natural selection in recent memory.
13. Super Color Vision
The human eye is capable of distinguishing 7 million colors. But a select few of the general population can distinguish a whopping 100 million colors.
Inside our eyes are millions of cone-shaped cells that allow us to perceive color. Those cones come in three types—at least for most of the populace. Instead of having three types, some people have four. Thanks to a genetic mutation that allows for what’s called tetrachromacy. Due to the genetic variation needing to affect both X chromosomes and the fact that women have two X chromosomes, only women can be tetrachromats.
12% of women have tetrachromacy, according to a study published in the Journal of Vision. Australian artist Concetta Antico is a tetrachromat and her condition allows her to add a unique flair to her artwork, weaving together an uncommon array of colors that amaze viewers.
12. Super Flexible Body
Marfan syndrome is a genetic disease that affects connective tissue. People with Marfan syndrome are typically tall and thin with long arms, legs, fingers, and toes. It’s also typical for them to have flexible joints.
Some people with the Marfan syndrome can bend and twist their limbs to shocking lengths. Spanish actor, film director, and illustrator Javier Botet used his condition to his advantage in the film industry. The 6’6″ Spaniard stretched his body to terrifying lengths when he played the titular character in the 2013 supernatural horror film Mama.
Since Marfan Syndrome can cause many problems in the bones and joints, as there are some drawbacks to having a super flexible body. The degree to which people are affected differs from person to person. However, the most severe cases involve complications with the heart and aorta and organ failures that are potentially life-threatening.
11. Needing Little Sleep
Considering how busy our lives can be at times, I’m sure needing little sleep is an ability we all wish we had.
Even though adults need 7-8 hours of sleep every night to function properly throughout the day, there are some people who can do just fine with six hours or less. It’s not because they’ve trained their bodies because they’re trying to force them to function on less sleep. It’s actually a genetic anomaly. A variation of the gene DEC2 allows for a rare set of individuals to physiologically need less sleep than average people.
People with the DEC2 mutation don’t have to worry about the negative side effects associated with sleep deprivation, like heart disease and heart pressure. Less than 1% of self-proclaimed short sleepers have this genetic mutation, so the chances of someone thinking they have it and actually having it are very slim.
10. Super Strength
Super strength is a fairly common ability in comics and superhero movies. While it’s uncommon in real life, it still does exist.
The reason why we can’t grow an excessive amount of muscles is largely due to the proteins myostatin and activin A. Our bodies produce these proteins to repress extreme muscle growth. They restrain your overall strength by limiting the size and number of your muscle cells. But thanks to genetic mutations in myostatin and activin A, some people can tap into enormous amounts of strength only seen in movies.
When Liam Hoekstra was just a toddler, he was diagnosed with a rare genetic myostatin-related condition called muscle hypertrophy. At five months, he could do an iron cross and at nine months, he could do pull-ups. By the time he was 3, his body was 40% muscle and had minimal fat.
9. Resistance To HIV
Viruses can be a very scary thing, so being resistant to one would be highly advantageous for an individual.
HIV uses the CCR5 protein, a protein on the surface of white blood cells that is involved in the immune system, to invade human cells. However, some people have a genetic anomaly that immobilizes the CCR5 protein. Therefore, if an individual doesn’t have that certain protein, it’s highly unlikely for them to contract HIV. Only 1% of Caucasians have this defective gene, and the condition is even rarer in other ethnicities.
But that doesn’t mean they’re immune to HIV entirely. Some unique strains of HIV have found a way to exploit other proteins in the body instead of CCR5 to force their way inside. And some people who didn’t have the CCR5 protein still managed to catch HIV and die from AIDS.
8. Resistance To Malaria
For some, resistance to malaria can go hand in hand with developing a case of sickle cell anemia.
Malaria works by attacking healthy red blood cells and reproducing. It is only stopped by treatment, the body’s defense mechanisms, or by death. Sickle cell anemia changes the shape and makeup of red blood cells, making it hard for them to be carried through the bloodstream and deliver oxygen. The malaria parasite becomes confused by the mutated cells; thus, preventing themselves from being attacked. Therefore, those who have sickle cells are resistant to malaria.
One can get the anti-malaria benefits without actually having sickle cells, but as long as one is a carrier of the sickle cell gene. Due to its strong protection against malaria, the sickle cell trait has become highly naturally selected in parts of the world where malaria is widespread.
7. Designed For High Altitude
If you’re climbing Mount Everest, you may need a local Sherpa guide. They’re built for living on top of the world.
Tibetans live at altitudes of over 13,000 feet and breathe in air that contains about 40% less oxygen than at sea level. Over the centuries, their bodies developed larger chest capacities so they could breathe in more air. Sherpa people also have the added benefit of better blood flow in the brain and are less susceptible to altitude sickness.
This genetic mutation that affects Tibetans concerns a stretch of DNA known as EPAS1. It codes for a regulatory protein, detecting oxygen and controlling the production of red blood cells. It’s the reason why Tibetans don’t overproduce red blood cells when they are deprived of oxygen, unlike ordinary people.
6. Golden Blood
The universal blood type is O…or so we are led to believe.
There are 35 known blood systems and then there are millions of variations within those systems. If a blood type doesn’t fall into the usual ABO group, then it’s considered rare. The rarest type of blood out there is Rh-null. People with a Rh-null blood type don’t carry a single Rh antigen in their blood. It’s the true universal blood donor beating out O completely, as O-negative blood isn’t compatible with some other negative blood types. It works with any blood type so it can be given to any person. However, researchers have only discovered 40 or so people with this rare blood type since its discovery. Currently, only nine people are blood donors. As a result of their lifesaving blood, it’s only used in extreme cases.
5. Perfect Underwater Vision
Many of us have probably dreamed of having a perfect vision underwater. For a certain group of people, this dream is an everyday reality for them.
The Moken people, an Austronesian people living on the Mergui Archipelago, have the unique ability of being able to see underwater. Their vision can extend up to 75 feet out in front of them.
The Moken spend eight months out of the year in boats and stilt houses, only returning to land to get important items. Children are tasked with gathering food from the ocean, putting their underwater vision to good use by distinguishing effortlessly between clams and ordinary rocks many feet below the surface of the water. When these Moken children were tested, their underwater vision was twice as strong as European children.
4. Sports Gene
The Athletic Talent Laboratory Analysis System claims that a certain gene can determine the type of athlete you were born to be.
In our bodies is a protein known as alpha-acitinin-3 which is responsible for controlling fast-twitch muscle fibers and the flexing of muscles during weightlifting or sprinting. In 2008, geneticists studying elite sprinters and power athletes discovered that a few of them had two defective copies of the gene ACTN3, making them totally deficient in the speedy-muscle-contracting gene.
ACTN3 is sometimes referred to as the “sports gene” because those who have two copies of the “sprint” type or two copies of the “endurance” version are considered to be superior to other athletes who don’t have these same gene copies.
3. Resistance To High Cholesterol
Many people worry about their cholesterol levels and have to limit their intake of foods that have a high amount cholesterol such as eggs, liver, shellfish, red meat, and more. But for others, they can eat whatever they want without having to worry about their cholesterol levels.
Some people are born without functioning copies of a gene known as PCSK9, which encodes an enzyme that helps transfer cholesterol molecules per particle. With this gene missing, there’s nothing controlling the cholesterol level of the lucky few. Up until now, the genetic mutation has only been found in a small number of African-Americans. As a result of this mutation, they also have a 90% reduced risk of heart disease.
2. Tolerance For The Cold
Have you ever wondered how the Inuits can live and thrive in such freezing cold temperatures? The answer concerns genetics.
Researchers have found that native Siberians are better adapted to cold temperatures compared to non-native Russians living in the same community. Even if someone moves to a cold region, their bodies never quite adapt to the cold temperatures like natives who have been living in that region for centuries.
People indigenous to cold climates have much higher basal metabolic rates than people who are adapted to temperate climates. They can also maintain their body temperatures better without shivering and have fewer sweat glands on their face and body. Out of all the ethnicities, the Inuits are capable of maintaining the highest skin temperature, followed by Native Americans.
1. The Inability To Feel Pain
Much like people with unbreakable bones, people with the inability to feel pain can go through life without many physical problems.
There’s a rare genetic mutation known as congenital analgesia that allows people with it to not feel any pain. They can prick their finger on a needle or put their hand on a burning stove and not feel any discomfort whatsoever. While this mutation sounds like a great ability to have, it can be potentially life-threatening.
While they may not suffer physical injuries, they can suffer internal injuries which they have no idea about. Those injuries can be deadly. In addition to that, they are susceptible to arthritis and other health problems. Those afflicted with arthritis don’t feel pain, of course; but it can be difficult for them to move around with it. The bottom line is people with congenital analgesia aren’t as healthy as one might believe them to be.