A popular facet of science fiction may soon become a reality with American military researchers currently looking to create "super soldiers" who can live without food and sleep and regrow their limbs thanks to genetic manipulation.
"It may be seen as blue-sky thinking but it has teeth and plenty of money behind it," the Daily Express quoted Novelist Simon Conway, who was given unprecedented access to Washington's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as saying.
AdvertisementWith funding of almost 2 billion pounds-a-year DARPA, established in 1958 after the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik shocked America, is working on an exoskeleton that will allow soldiers to run faster and lift heavy weights.
But its most revolutionary work is in gene manipulation.
"If you can efficiently convert fat into energy you don't need to feed your soldiers as often," Conway said.
"So you can send them into battle in remote areas plump and they live off their own fat.
"It is all about improving efficiency of energy creation in the body. Soldiers would be able to run at Olympic speeds, carry large weights and go without sleep and without food," he said.
The agency is also working out how to trigger cells to regrow limbs for soldiers, who are crippled by bombs.
"There is already a drug that allows people to shut off the trigger to sleep," Professor Joel Garreau, of Arizona State University, said.
"It was tested by the US army on helicopter pilots. They found that, after 40 hours, pilots actually had better concentration levels than if they'd rested.It is much better than amphetamines, which affect decision making and have led to many so-called friendly fire incidents," he said.
He confirmed that the agency was experimenting with turning fat to energy.
"The problem is that a Special Forces soldier burns 12,000 calories a day. You can't eat that much. Finding that metabolic switch would wipe out the 40 billion pounds diet industry in a heartbeat," Garreau said.
He said that the project to regrow limbs is being taken seriously.
"There are well-documented cases of young children losing a finger and it grows back.
"The trick is how to identify the trigger. Now it's a well-funded area of research," he added.