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Freeing The Newt Within

Who hasn’t dreamed of having extraordinary powers? Telekinesis, flight, or, perhaps, a third arm?

In the upcoming 2 August issue of C&EN, Sophie Rovner has a story on limb regeneration and its promise for human therapy. Newts are champions at regrowing lost arms and legs, she told me. Which got us to talking about whether we’d like to grow some extra limbs, as a tadpole has in one of the story’s images.

Doc Ock Sips His Java

My extra limb would be very useful as a cup holder for my favorite beverages while I’m working on destroying cities’ downtown areas.

A third arm offers many potential benefits—skiers could use an extra pole, helping better control their movement and speed; rock climbers could be like Spider-Man, able to dangle from a sheer cliff ledge and eat lunch at the same time; and gymnasts would be able to do handstands with unnatural ease. I, however, would use that third limb to hold my coffee bowl (I would say mug, but it’s way too big to be called that) like a champ while I type, edit for C&EN, walk, photograph, sleep … It might seem a waste, but using my third arm for holding coffee is more rewarding to me than using it for nefarious purposes like Doc Ock does. Although without my coffee, Washington, D.C., had better watch out!

But having a third upper extremity would tax a person’s body more than superhuman characters make it appear on the big screen. To maintain equal strength, let alone build more, you’d have to spend longer at the gym (or dangling from a wall) because you’d be working more limbs. But in today’s time-crunched, highly caffeinated society, more time to work out (any time to work out) is hard to come by. And the extra deodorant and special clothes needed would greatly increase cost-of-living expenses, not to mention the massages to work out muscle tension caused by the weight and use of the arm on a body not designed for an extra limb. That would make it a pretty expensive cup holder.

So, I’m not exactly convinced that the extra appendage is really all that desirable. I’m open to debate, however. What extra body part would you want (keep it clean—we’re a family blog!), what would you do with it, and how (or how not) would it alter your day-to-day?

Doc Ock photo graciously provided by wagner_arts, coffee by Shutterstock, and Photoshopping work by Robin Braverman of C&EN.

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