Science-fiction movies are a genius way to get average Americans interested in science. The Martian garnered massive interest in NASA, which the organization capitalized on with their timely announcement about discovering water on Mars. With the upcoming movie, Deadpool, biologists could gain attention by explaining the real science behind how Deadpool can survive being stabbed, shot, and run over by multiple cars. The short answer is that Deadpool is a superhero and has the ability to heal himself, but the long answer is one dripping with biological facts and science ripe for explanation.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Deadpool is a fictional character in Marvel Comics. To explain the science of his healing powers, one must first understand the biology of the fictional population called Mutants. In the comics, Mutants are a group of people who gain super powers due to a mutation in their genes. Specifically, a mutation on the 23rd Chromosome, the X Chromosome, produces an inheritable gene called the X-Gene. Like any gene, the X-Gene is transcribed from DNA to pre-mRNA, processed by splicisomes, and translated by the ribosome. The translation of the X-Gene creates a special “Mutant Protein” which produces chemical signals that create exotic abilities that usually manifest during puberty. Biologists could explain the manifestation of the X-Gene’s abilities due to the increase in hormones and chemical signaling that occurs during puberty. Overall, the science behind Mutants is fairly sound, the mutation creates a major change in the organism’s phenotype which is activated by the chemical signaling controlled by the protein for which the X-Gene codes.
Right now the science seems fairly straightforward, however is gets complicated and much more in need of professional explanation when we realize Deadpool in not actually a mutant. Instead, he got his powers from Gene Therapy involving mutant genes. Before he became a super hero, Deadpool had cancer throughout his body. For a possible cure, Deadpool submitted himself to the Weapon X program where he underwent heavy Gene Therapy using the genes of the mutant Wolverine. Wolverine’s X-Gene, which grants him the ability of heal rapidly, was bonded to Deadpool’s cancer cells. The exact science of the procedure is left vague, so this is where biologists could really flex their mental mussels in explaining how it could work in real life. One possible explanation biologists could use is as follows: First, the scientists utilized restriction enzymes to specifically cut the X-Gene from samples of Wolverine’s cells. They then place the extracted DNA into an empty Bacteriophage. Next the scientists inject their artificial virus into Deadpool’s cancer cells. Viruses replicate themselves by injecting their DNA into a host cell, and then integrating their DNA into the genome of the host. In the lysogenic cycle of virus replecation, the host cell survives with the new DNA and is now dubbed a prophage. If the lysogenic cycle occurs within Deadpool’s cancer cells then the cancer cells will continue to divide at their unregulated rate and as they do they will spread Wolverine’s X-Gene throughout Dead pool’s body. This keeps him alive and allows him to self-heal. Deadpool’s body has been overtaken by the Cancer, but because he can now self-heal it will not kill him; instead the cancer cells will actually be the cells growing to heal his various wounds.
The above explanation is just one possible explanation for how Deadpool got his powers. Experienced biologists can almost definitely develop a more nuanced explanation. Finding biological truth in the fictional character is a great way to learn more about science and engage a large majority of people interested in Deadpool. Biologists should create an in-depth analysis of how Deadpool could work in the real world in order promote an interest in biology among the average moviegoer.