Bullet wound? No problem. Lost limb? Pfft. Decapitation? Easy. Deadpool can handle it all thanks to an out-of-control healing factor derived from the mutant Wolverine. Genetic-based superpowers are always hard to nail down scientifically—we barely understand the intricacies of our own genomes—but Deadpool might be different. His disease could be the source of his power.
In my latest Because Science, I’m taking a look at how the genes that can cause and prevent cancer may give Deadpool an uncanny ability to regenerate. It’s not all nerdy speculation either; nature already has a Deadpool. The axolotl is a tiny salamander with the ability to regenerate any limb at any point any number of times without scarring. It can regrow its eyes, and even its brain. From research we know that two groups of genes—oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes—come into play during the healing process, but how those genes get activated without causing tumors eludes us. We have the same genes, so could a mutant version unlock a similar power?
You can think of oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes like the gas and brake pedals of cell division. Oncogenes can speed it up, sometimes out of control, and tumor suppressor genes can slow it down, even telling cells when to die. If Deadpool had complete control over these genes, he could put the pedal down when he needed to heal, and hit the brakes before he got a tumor. This would also mean he has the ability to halt his terminal cancer! It’s about as good of a scientific explanation as you’re going to get.
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