i-133b9fea8ea6b307d8c9133b7f3e23bf-dice.jpg The question this month is “Which parts of the human body could you design better?”

This is a great question, because a lot of aspects of the human body represent what worked well enough for survival, not necessarily what works best. Therefore the engineering ends up being rather ramshackle, and convoluted, and sometimes, downright terrible.

For instance, who can look at this image – an anatomical model of human pregnancy at term, and not think this is really, really stupid engineering.

i-ec01c2239e3d4a89de41331d214c2397-Female reproduction.jpg
(image via wikipedia)

The very first thing I would change would be the female reproductive system. Ideally reproductive systems and waste removal equipment shouldn’t share space or have a such proximity to each other increasing risk of infection. The pelvis could do with some widening so women could actually deliver kids without killing themselves a significant portion of the time. Further, pregnancy in humans results in a fetus sitting on the bladder and colon for several months (and vaginal delivery acutely injures these muscles), as a result, post-partum many women have difficulty with urinary incontinence, and with age and with more kids the greater the risk of incontinence (this can not be prevented by c-section – so the damage is likely from positioning of the fetus on top of the bladder rather than acute trauma during birth). This unfortunate arrangement of the uterus appears to be a result of the change from walking on all fours to walking upright, the fetus, which would ordinarily sit mostly on the wall of the abdomen, ends up sitting directly on internal organs.

I’m sure women would like an alternative to monthly period as well. Overall though, the female reproductive system is terrible, involving significant risks of morbidity and mortality with each pregnancy. One of the great benefits of medicine has been the drastic reduction in infant and maternal mortality with labor and delivery – but it would be nice if the system were engineered correctly in the first place.

Much more below the fold…

The second thing I’d fix is several aspects of male reproduction. First, the prostate is a ridiculous organ, with a minimally-important function (secretion of prostatic fluid increases survival of sperm by a fraction), and a high propensity for developing cancer – I’d get rid of it altogether. The problem is that it’s a gland wrapped around a tube, and as you age it hypertrophies and prevents easy urination.

i-c578b8a989c3788bf2f2d8eebcbc378a-Prostatelead.jpg
(image from wikipedia)

This is no longer a valuable contribution to our survival and reproductive efficacy, and I think most men would agree, we’d be happy with 1% less sperm in exchange for not having to pee in Morse code for the last 30 years of our lives. Alternatively, if it were just a gland in proximity to the urethra, rather than encircling it, we could enjoy its few benefits without having to suffer the side-effects (aside from inevitable prostate cancer). Also, in the image above, note the pathway of the vas deferens from the testicle to the prostate gland. This represents the pathway the testes take during development, which weakens the wall of the abdomen, leading to herniations as bowel can get stuck directly in the hole the vas deferens makes in the abdomen, or indirectly where the wall is weakened. The testes are also vulnerable, it’s unfortunate we have such delicate organs being kept in such an unprotected position – another consequence of bipedal motion.

The third thing I’d fix would be human aggression. There are socially maladaptive behaviors that were evolutionarily useful but now, not so much. Aggression, jealousy, selfishness. Mostly a problem of men, we are too violent and prone to rage.

Fourth, what ultimately kills is usually vascular disease. Atherosclerosis, which is what causes heart attacks, is actually a healing response gone awry. Here’s how it works.
i-436cd76e5a3487fe5a3706473b5cdb7f-atherosclerosis.jpg
(image from wikipedia)
As you age, lipids deposit in the walls of your arteries. This causes inflammation, white cells invade and try to digest the lipids, but this is ineffective and eventually a lesion forms that’s a mixture of lipids and white cells, and your body’s response is to just cover it all up with smooth muscle. This is called vascular remodeling, and it’s a modification of the normal healing process in blood vessels. You die when that nice layer of smooth muscle, that is covering up the inflammatory mess and necrotic tissue, fails or dies off. The inflammatory mess is suddenly re-exposed the bloodstream, platelets aggregate forming a clot, and all of a sudden a big chunk of your heart or brain no longer receives blood. This is the current model of myocardial infarction. The design flaw could be considered either the lipid deposition and inflammatory response, or the tendency of the recovery process to fail – the so-called “unstable” plaques that fail to hide the inflammatory mess from the bloodstream. Evolutionarily, this was a non-problem. Heart attacks kill you long after you’ve reproduced, so there isn’t a great need for this system to work perfectly. However, I think most of us would like to see an improvement so we can live long healthy lives. Similarly vessels that lose their plasticity with age, or arteriosclerosis, as well as a tendency towards higher blood pressure to compensate, could be improved thus preventing stroke.

Lastly I have a laundry-list of flaws in the design of various systems throughout the body. For instance:

The pancreas is a completely crummy organ, without a stem cell population to help regenerate it after being damaged, that eventually craps out in nearly every human with age. I would give the pancreas a stem cell population that renews the beta cells which are responsible for insulin production, and the whole insulin system could stand to be improved to prevent insulin insensitivity with age.

The combined openings for eating and breathing creates problems, with choking/aspiration risk. When you swallow, the trachea is blocked by the epiglottis:
i-a99d525d324b9d7fe6a6837c94b12f1e-throat.jpg
(image from wikipedia)
That small fold of cartilage is all that keeps food from going down the wrong pipe. As with most systems in the body of combined function, I think this is non-ideal. Separation of function would decrease risk, but then we couldn’t use the tongue and lips for vocalization. So I don’t have a simple solution, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

A better system for bile storage, possibly signals to release it directly from the liver rather than making bile constantly and storing it in the gall-baldder, which allows stones to form and risks of things like cholecystitis and pancreatitis.

The sinuses are another atavistic feature. Our skull has many holes in it, which people who get sinus infections agree, are a giant inconvenience. Worse, the maxillary sinuses – which many people get infections in, drain upwards!
i-755eadcffd5efe211d642a413e9b6e36-Maxillary sinus.jpg
(image from wikipedia)
Do you see where the hole is? Isn’t that idiotic?
This is another consequence of holding our heads upright, the hole in the sinus is no longer in a position which facilitates easy draining of mucus, as a result, infections are common.

It’s unfortunate we can’t digest cellulose, like some organisms. That would greatly expand our diet and make vegetarianism more efficient.

Wisdom teeth are atavistic and worthless, causing pain. Or alternatively, our jaw is too small. Our teeth are also relatively weak and poorly oriented in many people, probably as a result of cooking food for thousands of years has put less emphasis of quality of dentition on survival.

Portosystemic anastomoses – at the stomach and anus, result in problems such as hemorrhoids and esophageal varices, which can be uncomfortable and deadly respectively.

The spine and pelvis modification that has allowed us to walk upright puts excessive force on the lumbar vertebrae- causing back problems.

Finally, we are unable to heal from amputations like some organisms. I want some salamander genes to regrow my limbs if they get cut off!

Of course I’d love to hear what other people think would be good to change. These are the main issues that I can think of that generate clinical problems in a great number of people.

Comments

  1. #1 Matt Penfold
    November 1, 2007

    My nomination would be teeth.

    I will admit to having an interest as earlier in the year I had a rather nasty abscess which was excrutiatingly painful as well as causing trismus which stopped me opening my mouth.

    If the human body really is designed as the creationists claim then the designer was crap.

  2. #2 Karl
    November 1, 2007

    I think that I’ve seen explanations that knees would work better if they bent in the other direction.

  3. #3 Kate
    November 1, 2007

    Women don’t have estrus. And it’s only monthly for people who live in developed countries where we sit around too much and eat too much.

    If you want to widen the pelvis you’re going to have to make bipedalism much less efficient for men and women. In fact, if you want there to be less pressure on the bladder you might as well make us quadrupedal.

    It’s not your fault that the scienceblogger question is a dumb question… but damn it’s a dumb question. Evolution happens in context. There are trade-offs. I happen to think the female reproductive system is brilliant exactly as it is. It’s flexible, dynamic and manages to work despite the big brains of the fetuses we deliver and the bipedal walking that narrows our pelves. I know less about males so I won’t comment there, but my sense is saying the prostrate is essentially useless is an overstatement — just like the overstatement that the appendix is no longer useful.

    On top of all that, your answers are from a Western context (like with the monthly nature of the female reproductive cycle). Answering this with a more global context might present a totally different set of suggestions.

  4. #4 Joseph Fredette
    November 1, 2007

    This seems to me to be just yet another reason why Evolutionary thinking is better than Creationistic thinking. A Creationist would respond to the same question (IMHO) “Nothing, God designed the body perfectly, everything is great, yada yada.” Thinking from a standpoint of “The body is just what worked well enough to survive, not what was specifically designed by someone.” Gives us the ability to answer this question honestly, and potentially find ways to make things better. Can we completely redesign the reproductive system? Probably not. Can we use this thinking as an impetus to realize that we can make it better, I think so. Awesome post, Mark, I really enjoyed it.

    ~~Joe

  5. #5 Coturnix
    November 1, 2007

    Blind spot in the eye? Lower back (and the pain in it)? Shoulders far too easy to dislocate? Flat feet?

  6. #6 Matt Penfold
    November 1, 2007

    Joseph,

    The creationist response to that is to say that god DID design the human body perfectly; it is just that we are too stupid to understand that.

    Crap argument but then creationists are not noted for their stellar arguments.

  7. #7 Colugo
    November 1, 2007

    The 1984 book Future Man by science fiction writer Brian Stableford lists some improvements that could be made.

    A somewhat whimsical article by Butler, Olshansky and Carnes published in the March 2001 issue of Scientific American suggests ways in which the human body could be redesigned to better withstand the aging process.

    One approach is to categorize the sources of the human body’s design “problems.” 1) Phylogenetic-developmental constraints (e.g.. prostate-urethra), 2) Functional trade-offs (a. biomechanical, b. energetic…), 3) Recent changes to human lifestyle (e.g. excess calories and carbohydrates, lack of exercise etc.), and so on.

  8. #8 Tricia
    November 1, 2007

    re. the female reproductive system – it seems to me kangaroos have it made. Putting the joey in a pouch out front keeps it from sitting on her bladder and colon when she is upright. It also solves the issues of head and pelvis size.

  9. #9 Casmall
    November 1, 2007

    Can I ask that all future posts and comments on this topic begin with “Dear God….”.

  10. #10 Kagehi
    November 1, 2007

    Women don’t have estrus. And it’s only monthly for people who live in developed countries where we sit around too much and eat too much.

    Maybe you would like to quote the peer reviewed studies that imply this? I mean seriously, this is BS. It was *thought* that it didn’t happen with humans, but kind of like bird studies, this theory came more from stupid ideas about what they *should* be seeing than what was really going on. Fact is, across the board, among “every” cultural group, regardless of if the women is over weight and a couch potato, or someone that works out, jogs, etc, and is a fanatic about how much they do eat, there is a period, just prior to menstruation, where studies have shown women will be more likely to prowl more. The studies tracked women of all types, weights, health levels, etc. and found that about once a month, even the ones who where married and hardly ever left the house, where ***more*** likely, at the same time as other women they lived with, to decide to get a drink at the local bar, or otherwise go out, an not to the bingo hall with other ladies, but some place where their where a lot of men. There are also hormonal indicators tied to this, which happen cyclically, and one cycle does seem to spike higher during the same seasons when other animals would enter into it.

    Point is, its not some idiot myth, or only something that happens to women who sit on their ass all day and eat only McDonald’s. Its somehow appropriate that you posted this BS, without supporting documentation, on a “denialism” blog. lol

    That being said. Third world countries don’t have a lot of fracking bars for women to show up in once a month, let alone a huge number of doctors conducting hormonal research on what cycles they go through, or how likely they are to prance around guys at a specific time of the month, so its rather unclear how the hell something that is so subtle in **western** culture that it was denied as existing at all *here*, until someone looking at an entirely different subject went, “Wait.. These women keep showing up at the bars the same 2-3 days out of each month.. What the heck is going on here?”, and found a hormonal connection, isn’t going to be blindingly obvious some place where there is **no** research being done about it, and usually either a **complete** separation of the sexes, with disallows such behavior in the first place, or *no* drastic separation of the sort that would make it easy to spot the behavior. Its just not going to be obvious where either a) the freedom of movement is nearly non-existent for women, or b) they have much wider freedom of action than our society allows for. Unless you can present studies that show that the hormonal levels never change in them in the same way, that there is **no** increased libido at all during those changes, and that there isn’t some *better* explanation for why the behavior doesn’t happen than exercise and diet, both of which can be similar in “developed” countries, of the person is health conscious), you have a real problem with this hypothesis of yours.

  11. #11 Joshua
    November 1, 2007

    Yeah! Blind spot in the eye. Good one, Bora.

    I’ll also second the regeneration, although a friend of mine just pointed out that it would really suck to be caught by cannibals…

  12. #12 Carrie
    November 1, 2007

    Kagehi — can you direct me towards some sources showing that women “prowl more” according to a monthly cycle? I would like to share with my ladies at the bar. Seriously.

  13. #13 Josiah
    November 1, 2007

    re: cannibals

    Wouldn’t be an issue. They would need to feed you for you to be able to regrow appendages. The calorie and protein requirements for the regrowing of an appendage would be so extreme, it would be practically easier just to finish eating you and find another human.

  14. #14 Infophile
    November 1, 2007

    I can’t believe you guys have so far missed out on one of the biggest issues skeptics should be thinking about: Critical thinking facilities. A lot of the mind’s operations, such as pattern-seeking, were immensely helpful for survival in the wild, but lead to extraordinary fantasies in modern life. There’s still some benefit to it, but perhaps it could be toned down a bit, or even have critical thinking come built-in to modulate it.

  15. #15 MarkH
    November 1, 2007

    @ Kate and Kagehi

    Kate’s quite right, I was being pointlessly playful with terminology. For those that don’t know, the difference is mainly that menstruation is the shedding of the endometrial layer if conception doesn’t occur. Estrus indicates an animal is in heat…and seeks sex during this period. Now, Kagehi is also right, there are studies that show that women behave differently different parts of their cycle, but it’s a pretty minor effect and ultimately humans have sex whenever the hell they want – unlike most other mammals. To avert pointless arguing on this point I changed it to period. I think Kate was referring to these physiologic differences, and not necessarily that there are no behavioral changes during a menstrual cycle. Happy?

    As far as Kate’s other criticisms I disagree:

    If you want to widen the pelvis you’re going to have to make bipedalism much less efficient for men and women. In fact, if you want there to be less pressure on the bladder you might as well make us quadrupedal.

    I think there is a solution and that is to increase the size of the pelvic opening. There clearly has been an evolutionary push towards a narrower pelvis for locomotion, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to improve it without losing it – or if we’re talking about radical re-design, have a completely alternate pathway. I think your being too unimaginative here. I love the kangaroo idea! The marsupials have it made!

    It’s not your fault that the scienceblogger question is a dumb question… but damn it’s a dumb question. Evolution happens in context. There are trade-offs.

    I think it’s a great question because it’s one that exposes what these trade-offs have been and how evolution has shaped us in a way that works, but might not be perfect.

    I happen to think the female reproductive system is brilliant exactly as it is. It’s flexible, dynamic and manages to work despite the big brains of the fetuses we deliver and the bipedal walking that narrows our pelvis.

    It’s not perfect if there is significant mortality. Sorry, that’s bad engineering if there is significant risk to mother or child, significant risk of infection, and subsequent morbidity.

    I know less about males so I won’t comment there, but my sense is saying the prostrate is essentially useless is an overstatement — just like the overstatement that the appendix is no longer useful.

    I don’t say that it doesn’t have a use, it’s just not important enough to justify the inconvenience it can cause – just like the appendix which may have a function but clearly nothing we can’t do without.

    On top of all that, your answers are from a Western context (like with the monthly nature of the female reproductive cycle). Answering this with a more global context might present a totally different set of suggestions.

    True, this and some of the other replies have been from the point of view of humans living in luxury compared to what we experienced before technology made things so easy. It may be short-sighted to suggest changes based on such limited time enjoying these benefits, but several of these are unquestionably bad for everybody, no matter where you live, and if anything worse in the absence of corrective technology.

  16. #16 MikeQ
    November 1, 2007

    You could mention a complete redesign of the human eye, but that’s an easy one.

    If we had the lungs and associated air sacs and bone structure of birds that would greatly promote human efficiency in breathing, probably by greater than thirty percent. This is a complete redesign, though.

    Speaking of complete redesigns, why can’t I have ecolocation? Or a sense of the earth’s magnetic field? Or senses of electric impulses, like fish have with the lateral line system. Or why can’t I detect heat on sight, like snakes?

    I’d also do a complete redesign of the human back muscles, to make walking upright easier.

  17. #17 Francis
    November 1, 2007

    The very concept of Better Design implicates a specified use. Better designed to do what? Run marathons? Explore deep space? Live longer? Live more healthily? Increased pleasure from sex?

    It seems to me that whales have it pretty good; the environment in which they live coupled with their design allows for the development of huge brains.

    Various kinds of dinosaurs were very successful; species endured for millions of years before going extinct.

    Now, I’m a lawyer not an engineer, so redesign is beyond my expertise. But to add to the foregoing comments, I never thought that the whole head-neck design was all that great. Putting the heavy brain at the end of a complex tilt/swivel seems kind of dumb.

    What about a kind of centaur? Put the brain in the middle of the lower torso, along with the lungs and a speech organ and speech mout. Put eyes and food mouth at the upper end of the upper organ. (I think I may be thinking of a modified Larry Niven alien. Puppeteer?)

  18. #18 Vagueofgodalming
    November 1, 2007

    Well, all of that would be nice, sure. But can’t you do something about this damned ageing first? Then there’s time to do the other stuff.

    Being able to breathe space, survive extreme heat, cold, and radiation, and use the solar wind to travel would then be good – I’d like to see Jupiter and Saturn, at least, up close, before going on to the stars. Those space suits are so cumbersome and unnecessary, really.

  19. #19 MarkH
    November 1, 2007

    Well, I think the discussion is limited to flaws which exist in the human body now that we would like to change. It would be nice to be gods of space and time, but in the meantime I’d like to just fix what’s killing us and making our lives difficult.

    As far as aging, that’s not really a design flaw that one can imagine a simple fix for. The issue being that cellular senescence is required to avoid cancer. It would be nice to avoid aging sure, but as far as being a “flaw” there aren’t that many species that don’t have the problem (clams and turtles might be examples in which there has been improvement in the area). Meanwhile there are species that are able to give birth without pain and death for the mother – I like the marsupial example – and some of our problems are basically simple mechanical issues – like the prostate and wisdom teeth – that we’ve been able to correct with medical intervention.

  20. #20 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    November 1, 2007

    I second flow through bird lungs instead of our inefficient bellows design.

    How about a flapped or ring muscled cranial opening internal to the neck area to avoid overpressure of the brain at hemorrhaging or inflammations? Oh, and better make such overpressure relief valves for the eyes too.

    Ring muscled orifices to the ears would be fine, the city sound environment is a lot more noisy compared to nature.

    More and smaller hearths. In fact, I would like to divide up and redistribute most organs in a more modular body compartment. Bilateral symmetry is many symmetries too few.

    Which hooks into the regrowth ideas. Why die just because you temporarily loose 40 % of body functions in a smaller accident? And kids would love to actually have another stomach for dessert. :-P

  21. #21 MartinM
    November 1, 2007

    The path taken by the recurrent laryngeal nerve is really quite mindnumbingly stupid. Brain -> chest -> larynx. Hrmm. Even to us non-biologists, that seems suspiciously like one step too many.

    And if it’s stupid design in humans, using it in giraffes must win some sort of prize.

  22. #22 JT
    November 1, 2007

    I think we could rather easily divert the urinary tract to exit out near the anus, freeing it from the reproductive system all together. Sure, us guys would have to sit, but it’s a small price to pay for ending that stupid toilet seat debate once and for all.

    I rather like the idea of modeling the birthing system to be a bit more like a kangaroos. And as for the male reproductive system, I say we bring back the baculum.

  23. #23 ak
    November 1, 2007

    No question: I would redesign the prostate. Why? It�s a bothersome and often deadly organ without clear use (rats can father without a prostate) in the worst location for treatments.

  24. #24 a. brown
    November 1, 2007

    Marsupial pouches? Society gets grossed out enough when the “sexual” breasts takes up its true function (lactation), but does anyone really want women to have gooey pouches on their abdomens? You know, they don’t detach after the baby is done hanging out. Have you ever stuck your hand into one of those? See this. I mean, I guess you could have sex with it, but seriously people.

    And as for estrus, Kagehi, you do NOT want women having that.

  25. #25 Colugo
    November 2, 2007

    Here’s another one: the male prepuce. Vulnerable to pathogens, prone to warts and cancer, an infection risk to partners. If only there were a surgically simple way to get rid of it, like wisdom teeth… oh, that’s right, there is.

    Disagree? That’s fine. But no one can use the argument that we are just perfect the way God or evolution made us.

  26. #26 Michael Suttkus, II
    November 2, 2007

    The first thing I’d change is to make our teeth replaceable repeatedly. If you got a new set of teeth every 10 years, think how much less we’d have to worry about cavities!

    2nd, I want the kind of testicular cooling system some mammals got, instead of this idiotic “We’ll just stick them on the ourside!” thing the primates went with. Honestly, can you think of a dumber idea than to stick the most evolutionarily important organs out where they can get hurt?

    Next, get rid of male milk-glandular tissue. It’s not doing us a bit of good and it makes us a target for breast cancer.

  27. #27 Silmarillion
    November 2, 2007

    Hiya – I asked this question when I swallowed some water and it went down the wrong way. I’m sure this has happened to everyone at least once! I think Mark has answered the question perfectly. Due to evolution, we have body parts that are a bit convoluted. So if you could nudge it a bit here and there, what could you come up with that’s better?

  28. #28 Nomen Nescio
    November 2, 2007

    Michael, instead of a testicular cooling system, i’d want to copy the elephants’ solution — just make sperm production less bloody temperature-sensitive, then keep ‘em internally. that’d solve the idiotic vas deferens routing problems, too. great idea about replaceable teeth, however; i’d go for that any day.

    i’ll add another voice to the eye redesign vote, too. i’ve worn glasses since i was twelve, pretty much every waking hour of my life. i could really have done without that.

    the bridges of human feet are prone to collapse in some people. you’d think, among the dozens of other end-of-limb solutions out there, we could find a more robust one.

  29. #29 David Marjanovi?
    November 2, 2007

    This is another consequence of holding our heads upright, the hole in the sinus is no longer in a position which facilitates easy draining of mucus, as a result, infections are common.

    Erm… we don’t hold our heads upright. They’re still horizontal. The position of the hole is stupid to begin with.

    Or senses of electric impulses, like fish have with the lateral line system.

    The lateral-line system senses vibrations. Like the electric sense, and unlike the magnetic sense, it only works in water. (The electric sense might work in moist soil, too, but that’s it.)

    Reproduction through the pelvis clearly falls under stupid, however. Keep in mind that this arrangement is older than the two pelvis halves meeting in the middle: the system was there, and the pelvis grew around it. The closest to a solution is the marsupial way.

    BTW, wisdom teeth still work for some people. In my jaws there is just enough space for all four, and they happen to be coming out straightly vertically. =8-)

    And as for the male reproductive system, I say we bring back the baculum.

    I don’t see the space to store it in the retracted condition.

    Here’s another one: the male prepuce. Vulnerable to pathogens, prone to warts and cancer, an infection risk to partners.

    A nice protection from infection for oneself.

    The first thing I’d change is to make our teeth replaceable repeatedly.

    Yep. If camarasaurid dinosaurs can have precise occlusion and continuous tooth replacement, so can we.

  30. #30 David Marjanovi?
    November 2, 2007

    Michael, instead of a testicular cooling system, i’d want to copy the elephants’ solution — just make sperm production less bloody temperature-sensitive, then keep ‘em internally.

    This does seem to come with an increased mutation rate.

    the bridges of human feet are prone to collapse in some people. you’d think, among the dozens of other end-of-limb solutions out there, we could find a more robust one.

    The way to go here is the way of the dinosaur. To dislocate a dinosaur ankle, you must break bone. Get a look at a bird ankle next time you can: it’s a simple, stable hinge.

    On the other hand, mammal elbows are marginally more stable than those of birds.

  31. #31 Billy (A Liberal Disabled Vet)
    November 2, 2007

    My vote: the knee. Due to a rotational dislocation in the army, I have, in the last 17 years, had 7 a-scopes and four (count ‘em, ladies and gentlemen, four) open procedures to correct tendon and ligament damage (and am looking forward to another surgery this winter). A pedestal on top of a pedestal held together with rubber bands. Brilliant.

    I know that the knee, in today’s world, does not need to work perfectly for a human to survive. But the constant pain, and surgeries, get old real quick.

    If I vote for comfort rather than an extended life, does that make me an optimist or a pessimist?

    (The knee is also a great argument AGAINST ID)

  32. #32 khan
    November 2, 2007

    Just a few words for the median (carpal tunnel syndrome) and ulnar (entrapment) nerves; there’s got to be a better way.

  33. #33 Laser Potato
    November 2, 2007

    Hardening of the arteries.
    WORST. DESIGN. EVER.

  34. #34 Scientist of the Invisible
    November 2, 2007

    There’s a lot of sexual differences that are really stupid if you look at them rationally. The article already mentions male aggression. But why should men be more prone to heart disease than women or die earlier? And why should women generally be physically weaker than men and more prone to get breast cancer (and how about the unnecessary large breasts of female homo sapiens in general?) and osteoporosis?

  35. #35 Amy
    November 2, 2007

    I am not a science person but I enjoy thinking about the body and its modification thoroughly so my ideas are going to veer off that way as my opinion on the design better are probably slightly different…I would like to be able to have a set of gills on top of keeping my lungs, since I think it makes sense to have the option of breathing water in a planet that is more that 50% water. I would like much better vision and have the ability to see 360 degrees. I also think the muscle fat ratio difference in male/female bodies is no longer needed or wanted and women should have more musculature. Keloiding and Hyperthropic scarring should be “fixed” so it doesn’t happen so often to people. Brain cells should regenerate and skin should not loose so much elasticity over time, and you should be able to regenerate it. The body should also be able to withstand both hotter and cooler temperatures.

  36. #36 Billy (A Liberal Disabled Vet)
    November 2, 2007

    Talked to my wife. I majored in history and am not sure is this would be psychology or physiology:

    When do men reach their sexual peak? Around age 18.

    When do women reach their sexual peak? Around age 35.

    Another argument against ID.

  37. #37 Sarah Pine
    November 2, 2007

    Billy, you beat me to it, and I’m glad you mentioned it–but yes, the knee! The human knee is crappy design. The ligaments in there are easily destroyed by age 40 and it is, basically as you said, a pedestal on top of a pedestal held together by rubber bands. WTF!

  38. #38 Keith
    November 2, 2007

    I definitely think that marsupials won out in the genetic lottery with the birth pouch. I’d even be willing to do a gender trade off, like sea horses; men have the pouch, so they carry the baby to term with fetal transfer from the woman.

    Of course, that would only work if we rejigger the lower back to allow for weight distribution. I’m thinking something like a skeletal equivalent of a flying buttress.

    Of course, if we want to get really efficient for breading purposes, egg sacks would be ideal– hang the placenta in the closet and suspend the developing fetus in an amniotic sack. You water it and feed it like a plant.

  39. #39 Kate
    November 2, 2007

    MarkH, thanks for responding to Kagehi; I wasn’t even going to bother going there but you articulated a good response (that said, the prowling thing has significant methodological issues, and we still can’t parse out in humans whether proceptive behavior really is hormonal or not, and whether culture shuts it up, amplifies it, etc). Also Kagehi, if you’d like to email me I can send you all the references you like. I just don’t necessarily like to demonstrate my discipline through what journals I read as I try to be moderately pseudonymous.

    Just to respond to one comment you made:

    It’s not perfect if there is significant mortality. Sorry, that’s bad engineering if there is significant risk to mother or child, significant risk of infection, and subsequent morbidity.

    Actually, it only has significant mortality in certain populations: those with other related health issues (like access to clean drinking water) and those that use doctors instead of midwives to catch babies. The USA is ranked 30th in terms of infant and maternal mortality. European and Southeast Asian countries like the Netherlands and Singapore kick our asses because they stay away from medical interventions that are illogical and don’t understand the female body in an evolutionary context.

    So again, it’s all about context — both in terms of location and evolution. Maternal and infant mortality is astoundingly low — especially given what we have to go through because of our bipedal pelvic constraints — once you look at populations that are low intervention.

  40. #40 Suricou Raven
    November 2, 2007

    - Female reproductive. Create new birth canal that doesn’t go through the pelvis. You can keep the current virgina if you want, but the baby comes out of the belly now. Optionally, make it so it only developes during pregnency, and heals up again afterwards. That way there is no infection risk.

    - Skin. Sweat glands. I know they make good cooling, but they also make zits! And body odour. Turn down the ones on the face, and remove pubic hair. Unless needed for pheremones.

    - Eyes. They lose focus too easily.

    - Why can I not regrow a limb? Correct this design flaw.

    - Brain. Its certinly impressive, but its really beta-grade still. Its succeptable to logical fallacy attacks, and has so many built-in biases with no purpose. Half its heuristic guides were obsolete millenia ago. Its amazing it works as well as it does, but its clearly time for an overhaul.

    - Weight control. Worked perfectly well in the evolutionary environment, but cant cope properly with modern lifestyles. People get fat: Make them less hungry

    - Heart. There is only one. This is a mechanical organ which, if it fails, results in death within minutes. Why isn’t there a backup? Two hearts, even slightly smaller, could pump more blood – and if one fails, its nothing worse than serious discomfort until it can start again.

    - Joints. They age really badly. I think someone designed these for the 50-year warranty program.

    - Hair. Not the hair so much as the parasites that live in it. Remove hair, remove parasites.

    - Skin tones. Not to be racist here, but why invent a perfectly good sunburn-resistant skin and then continue to manufacture the easily damaged one? Just stick in a vit-D synthesis pathway, and give everyone the sun-resistant black. As a plus, remove one of the excuses for humans to oppress each other – should take them at least half an hour to find a new one.

    - Male reproductive. Its functional, but why is the reproductive plumbed in to the urinary tract? Its an infection-handling disaster. Females fair little better.

    - Immune: Fix that autoimmune bug.

    - Respitory. Why is it plumbed up to divestive? Ohh, lets put the vital air through the food-hole. What idiot came up with that idea?

  41. #41 Qoheleth
    November 2, 2007

    How about the whole electrochemical impulses thing as a means for transmission of information? That’s a bit, um, slow, don’t you think? Waiting for molecules to diffuse across gaps seems massively inefficient, regardless of how small the gaps are. I mean, really, reaction times measured in tenths of seconds? Let’s rip out this whole electrochemical/diffusion system, and replace it with some copper wires and proper electrical impulses, and I bet we can get reaction times down to a few milliseconds–maybe even microseconds. I want the limiting factor in reaction times to be “how fast can you accelerate your limbs or digits without damaging them,” not the speed of neural impulses.

    Also, I want at least four eyes spaced evenly around the head for 360° vision.

  42. #42 Natalie
    November 2, 2007

    I just wanted to let you know I used your “peeing in Morse code” line in my urinary system lecture for a human bio class today and everyone thought it was hilarious. Thanks for the great one-liner addition to my lecture.

  43. #43 Kagehi
    November 2, 2007

    Ok Kate, my point was that it “exists” in humans, not that it was as radical and extreme as in other animals. Its a matter of degree, not non-existence. For example, I am pretty sure that its more extreme in Chimps, including Bonobo, but **like us** they are capable of, and do engage in, sexual activity year round. Likely, if conditions where different, many other species might do so as well. A lot of it probably depends on how much social contact is needed to hold together groups of animals, and what type of social structure that is. Even among wolves, if I remember right, there is some dominance based contact, between males mostly. It doesn’t happen with the females because part of *their* social system is to deny reproduction to any but the alphas, so dominance games that involve breaking that rule wouldn’t make much sense.

    As for someone else’s request for a paper on the prowling.. I am not sure where to find it. The specific details I got where in a TV program involving the research of human sexuality, recent studies and debunking of some of the myths connected to it, the myth that women didn’t a) have strong drives, and that b) there was a “measurable” shift in desire and the seeking of male company, and more overt flirting/flaunting of availability, at specific times of the month, when women are capable of becoming pregnant, where two of them. I have no idea where to find the paper the researches published on the subject. But “measurable” doesn’t mean *quite* the same thing as, “Women act like the character from Dark Angel who had too much cat DNA.”

    Mind you, I suspect that genetic factors could cause variation in such responses. Some women probably have much larger shifts in how they act than others, some bordering on scary, but that is just a prediction, based on other behavioral variations that can also be fairly wide. Also, one has to take into account “social” programming, which can artificially exaggerate or suppress behaviors, which might otherwise be either more, or even less, extreme than they appear, given the rules they have learned to work within. I would tend to suspect “more”, since we are still living under the thumb of some strange ideals when it comes to how aggressive women are “allowed” or “supposed” to be, compared to men, as well as often an opposite exaggeration of how aggressive *men” are supposed to be.

    This is one of the problems really. At best you can come up with some statistical data suggesting that the “effect” is real and exists, but unless you can divorce the subjects from their social system, which suppresses and/or exaggerates behavior, you can’t tell what the *actual* effect really is, and how much of it is social suppression.

  44. #44 Caledonian
    November 2, 2007

    The female pelvis is a fantastic example of compromise between function and design constraints – it’s really rather elegant in a bizarre way.

    If human heads are to get any bigger, either women will have to give up walking on two legs, or a fundamentally different system will have to be developed. Very advanced and safe c-sections, or a technological adaptation (uterine replicators, anyone?), would be necessary.

    I don’t favor abandoning the upright posture for women, so it’ll have to be a change in the method of delivery. Uterine replicators would also negate the serious health risks to women from gestation and birth, so I’d hope for them.

  45. #45 uriel
    November 3, 2007

    Shins.

    Here’s this section of the human anatomy that has all kinds of pain receptors, a fairly high level of surface tension, and absolutely no way of developing a protective layer of either fat or muscle to protect it.

    And it’s located in the one part of the body that, due to our bipedal morphology, is constantly being thrust into peril, again and again.

    Just dumb.

  46. #46 steven
    November 3, 2007

    i would just like to briefly intercede on behalf of a significant portion of the gay male population: just because you don’t get much mileage out of /your/ prostate doesn’t mean you should go about trying to ruin them for the rest of us.

    i’m right with you on the pancreas, though.

  47. #47 Laura
    November 3, 2007

    Childbirth can be the biggest risk in a young woman’s life, and the risk is getting bigger as we get fatter. Diabetes is increasing baby size leading to cephalo-pelvic disproportion. C-sections, however, only increase the overall risk of complications, and therefore should be reserved for only when necessary. Even if the big baby can be delivered vaginally, there can still be bad complications–including shoulder dystocia, where the shoulder is impinged on the pelvic bone and the brachial plexus nerves can be stretched. It may lead to temporary (and sometimes permanent) palsy of the arm.

    End point–America stop being so fat.

  48. #48 Suricou Raven
    November 3, 2007

    The whole business of sex seems rather over-complicated, when all you really need to do is transfer a few cells from one person to another. It also introduces a lot of social complications – breeding instincts that are no longer required.

    It would also be convenient of women were incapable of getting pregnent without making a concious decision.

    So, my proposed complete reproductive redesign:

    - Males, I really am sorry about this, but all the exposed parts are just too easily damaged. I know you will miss them, but ive moved the testes internally. I didn’t want to axe the prostrate, but ive moved it away from the urethra. The penis I have given a complete redesign – I didn’t want to get rid of it entirely because its so important for making mating enjoyable, but I moved it inside. Dont worry, it will still come out when you get aroused. Its also protected now, so you dont have such a complicated shape – its actually a bit pointed now.

    I am sure you will all be more than satisfied: I also rebuilt the neural side. Not only is it more sensetive, but I gave you the ability to inhibit orgasm at will (Many satisfied partners!) and got the cycle time down to five minutes from orgasm to ready-to-go-again.

    Because, if sex is going to be about pair bonding as much as reproduction, you might as well do it *right*

  49. #49 beajerry
    November 4, 2007

    A better question is what organs would you add?
    ;)

  50. #50 Jeffrey Cook
    November 4, 2007

    After reading so may fine points on the limitations on the fuctionality of our body parts, i have to chirp in. Like most systems in the body….they are not redundent. I for example, have a failing liver. If there was a sub system to take the load of non functioning liver processes, and they are legion, perhaps this amazing organ could catch a break.I agree with just about every point that has been made….especially the female reproductive system. Im a guy, but i got a truckload of sympatico for the system they were born to endure. I can only hope that time and evolution will correct some of what plagues these mortal shells we inhabit. While they are frail, not very adaptive, they give us on the average of 70 yrs to view this amazing “thing” we call life, neh?

  51. #51 Roland Conybeare
    November 4, 2007

    How about the kidneys? I remember reading that human kidney design requires we consume and excrete large amounts of water, a legacy of our fresh-water-swimming ancestors. Since we live on land, we would be better of with a kidney designed to excrete salts and retain as much water as possible, rather than the reverse.

  52. #52 Adam
    November 4, 2007

    Anything autoimmune. Allergies, asthma, arthritis.

  53. #53 Richard Kulisz
    November 4, 2007

    I’ve only read half the comments so far, but I doubt anyone has mentioned immunity to viruses. Which can be trivially conferred by recoding our DNA/RNA and ribosomes to something other than the universal code.

    In fact, if we used multiple incompatible codes (say 30) for our new genome and used artificial insemination to reproduce, we would insure that viruses could never evolve to infect us.

    I would also refactor our entire genome. Every gene that codes for multiple proteins would be resliced into multiple genes. Every protein whose structure we can’t derive from its DNA would get resequenced to standard DNA sequences. This is just preliminary work to enable further improvements.

  54. #54 NDickson
    November 4, 2007

    My nomination would have to be the human knee. While it is wonderfully mobile, they take a lot of wear and tear from the impact of walking over time. Not to mention that an impact from the side or landing wrong causes breaks all too often in the tendons running from the femur to the tib expecially the acl and secondarily the mcl.

    We need more lubrication in the area. more robust tendons and a little more leway in the joint upon bending.

  55. #55 Edwin Jones
    November 4, 2007

    More muscles on to power our arms and legs, a larger heart/lungs to accomodate and a better skeleton structure: If my ribs protect my heart why do they have HOLES in? A solid structure would reduce punture of the abdomen and reduce casualties from injuries to the primary organs – the Heart and the lungs.

    Also, bleeding to death is a silly way to die – Arteries need valves like veins so that they can ‘seal’ the wound like a submarine seals a leak underwater.

    Testicles need to be cold but having them on the outside is dangerous for them and the penis. Having them inside (unless aroused) like other animals would be far more useful in a combat/dangerous situation.

  56. #56 Rohin
    November 4, 2007

    Somewhat related to atherosclerosis, but assuming that complex process might be difficult to re-engineer, for God’s sake who designed coronary arteries? They’re the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.

    Heart attacks kill more people than…well most things, and it’s all because the most important organ in the body is supplied by a pair of tiddly arteries about 5-8mm thick. Secondly, coronary blood only flows in diastole (when the ventricles are filling). People with big hearts need more coronary blood. However, the bigger a heart gets, the shorter diastole is.

    Who has a big heart? Someone with hypertension. So people at a higher risk of cardiac events (someone with high blood pressure) gets even less blood to their heart as their body compensates. Excellent!

  57. #57 Lex
    November 4, 2007

    I would redesign the intestinal track. If youve ever had cramping or bloating or diahrhea, you know that this is a necessity. Why would you have yards of collapsible flesh tubes. Its inevitable that they clog or get full easy. LAME.

  58. #58 Chip Gibbons
    November 4, 2007

    I would get rid of anything that causes disease and ultimately death.

    But religions teach us that God gave us these things because man, who He created, sinned and therefore has to be punished with pain, suffering and death.

    If I were God I would have created man so that he couldn’t sin and then I wouldn’t have to punish him with a body that doesn’t work very well and then dies. I mean why would I, being God, who could create anything I wanted, want to make myself watch all that suffering all the time?

  59. #59 Suraj
    November 5, 2007

    There is one serious flaw with this body which has caused so many deaths by means of war and aggression. There is no human being who has not suffered (from a sibling being beaten up by the elder one to the spouse cheating on the partner) and that is all due to our instincts.

    The fruits of science has given us the comfort of not having to worry about running away from a predator. We no longer need to have better sweat glands or sharper eye sight. Science has allowed us to live a better quality of life. Better, for, I wonder why on a bright earth and as day-time creatures would we ever develop night vision. But science did. Why would we need microscopes, but science did it.

    We live in a complex society that no other species dares to enter. We are, indeed, the masters of this planet. While a part of our ‘success’ in survival could be attributed to the neo-cortex – in its ability to think so farther into the future that no other species[1] dared to. The ‘other part’ of our ‘success’ should definitely be attributed to the Amygdala – the center of our instincts.

    Instincts did its job – got us to where we are today. But no thanks, its no longer needed.

    I don’t know what anatomical change we must make – but clearly, the emotional, instinctive part of our brain is no longer needed for modern society to go on. Infact, I think this world would be a better place without our instincts.

    [1] Oh wait, maybe the dolphins did before they said “So long and thanks for all the fish”? ;)

  60. #60 peter
    November 5, 2007

    Um, it’s been my experience that the prostate is (or at least can be) a significant contributor to the experience of pleasure during orgasm. Not a lot of research on this, but the article “Decreased sexual capacity after external radiation therapy for prostate cancer impairs quality of life” (
    Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 1995 Apr 30;32(1):33-9) seems indicative. You can’t just remove the prostate without giving us something else to play with!

  61. #61 bogi666
    November 5, 2007

    The human heart is essentially a reptilian, fish, heart design. The only intelligent design of the human heart is for the well being of cardiologists and has very very successful for that purpose. Hyena and Cheetah hearts are examples of hearts designed specifically for those creatures, while the human heart is design for reptiles.

  62. #62 RagnoRosso
    November 6, 2007

    Oh Chip, Chip, Chip, I think I love you! There’s something irresistible about a guy who can sum up the argument so concisely!! Please can I quote your post ad nauseam on every creationist and ID site I visit?

    On another point raised here, it seems the general consensus for modification of the female reproduction is toward the marsupial method; but from the point of view of someone who has gone through pregnancy and delivery it does ignore the emotional fulfilment of internal carriage of a foetus. I’m also not particularly keen on the idea of toddlers being able to jump back in the pouch whenever they feel like it as juvenile kangaroos are wont to do. However, I do agree that the female reproduction and waste disposal systems are poorly designed as my many years of susceptibility to cystitis will attest; I mean, who in their right mind, puts the the recreation area right next door to the waste disposal unit?

  63. #63 David Marjanovi?
    November 6, 2007

    (and how about the unnecessary large breasts of female [H]omo sapiens in general?)

    Sexual selection. An active force for stupid design.

    Why can I not regrow a limb?

    Would probably drastically increase the cancer risk, unless you get your metabolism down to salamander levels. The real stupidity seems to be the use of DNA in the first place: DNA falls apart when stored in water. You spend lots of energy constantly repairing your DNA.

    Fix that autoimmune bug.

    How?

    The female pelvis is a fantastic example of compromise between function and design constraints – it’s really rather elegant in a bizarre way.

    Typical of natural selection: the compromise is elegant, but the design constraint is stupid.

    Shins.

    Very good point, as I can tell from repeated experience. A triangular bone in cross-section, edge forward, with nothing but skin above the edge.

    Males, I really am sorry about this, but all the exposed parts are just too easily damaged. I know you will miss them, but ive moved the testes internally. I didn’t want to axe the prostrate, but ive moved it away from the urethra. The penis I have given a complete redesign – I didn’t want to get rid of it entirely because its so important for making mating enjoyable, but I moved it inside. Dont worry, it will still come out when you get aroused.

    That’s normal for limbed vertebrates. Except for the position of the prostate.

    I’ve only read half the comments so far, but I doubt anyone has mentioned immunity to viruses. Which can be trivially conferred by recoding our DNA/RNA and ribosomes to something other than the universal code.

    Very good point!

    In fact, if we used multiple incompatible codes (say 30) for our new genome and used artificial insemination to reproduce, we would insure that viruses could never evolve to infect us.

    That would require making a whole artificial genome and inject it into the ovum. Unless you want to make 30 human species.

    If my ribs protect my heart why do they have HOLES in?

    Good question. Mammalian breastbones are unusually narrow. Even flightless birds have a big rectangular plate.

    for God’s sake who designed coronary arteries? They’re the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.

    And interestingly the crocodiles lack them. Their hearts feed themselves from the inside.

    I would redesign the intestinal track.

    Tract.

    Hyena and Cheetah hearts are examples of hearts designed specifically for those creatures

    Please elaborate!

    it does ignore the emotional fulfilment of internal carriage of a foetus.

    How do you know you can’t get that from pouch carriage? :-)

  64. #64 David Marjanovi?
    November 6, 2007

    Actually… to return to the human pelvis thing… the birds have figured out a simple method, even simpler than the marsupial solution. The problem in the human version is that, as usual in limbed vertebrates, the two halves meet in the middle, closing the bony ring around the reproductive system. This is necessary for stability.

    Except it isn’t. The mammalian sacrum-pelvis connection is utterly pathetic. The pelvis halves of birds can’t flap around because they are fused to the sacrum. And indeed, the pelvis halves of birds stopped meeting in the midline something like 110 million years ago. Do you know how big kiwi eggs are compared to the mother…?

  65. #65 Xanthir, FCD
    November 6, 2007

    Steven: You bring up an excellent point, indirectly. What’s with this whole ‘gender’ thing? At the very least allow all genders to have hawt sexx without jury-rigging the body (and dealing with the resultant heightened infection risk).

    At the most, shift to one-gender sexual reproduction. I am pissed that fully half the population is off-limits due to my hetero orientation.

  66. #66 Randy Olson
    November 6, 2007

    How about the human heart?

    In my movie, “Flock of Dodos,” I posed the question of, “Is the human body perfectly designed?” to Dr. Karel Liem (Biology Dept., Harvard University) who replied with laughter. A decade ago his heart set the record at a Boston hospital for the most bypasses in a single surgery (eight!), leaving him feeling very passionate (coming from the heart, literally) about this question. He explains how the human heart is evolved from the fish heart and ends up being very poorly designed, with insufficient collateral circulation.

    HOWEVER … last November we learned from a creationist he is totally wrong about this. At our screening at William and Mary we had on the panel discussion the head of the biology department at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University who is a neurophysiologist and card-carrying young earth creationist. He noted that the coronary arteries are all located on the surface of the heart, not down in the muscle tissue where they would be hard to repair. He pointed out that we all know we are forced to pay for our sins from time to time with such punishments as heart attacks, but the design of the heart allows the cardiologist easy access to fix things so you can go back out into the world as a reformed soul. Therefore it’s actually perfectly designed.

    I wish you could have seen the expressions on the faces of the 500 audience members as he shared that bit of wisdom.

  67. #67 MarkH
    November 6, 2007

    That’s an interesting story Randy.

    I’m actually pretty well versed in mammalian coronary development and have been meaning to do a basic science post on it soon (maybe in a month when I’m done writing all this real science).

    But simply put, it is an inelegant, post-hoc mechanism that clearly arose to accommodate an increase in mass of heart tissue and energy demands at a specific evolutionary time point. It consists of the epicardial organ (which is derived from the liver!) chucking cells at the surface of the heart, which then band together and eventually invade the aorta at the ostea. It’s not a highly reliable process, there is lots of individual variation in anatomy as any cardiologist will tell you, and is ultimately not ideal design. If it were we’d have three ostea like deer!

    Ok, now I’m serious, I’m not commenting for the rest of the day.

  68. #68 Brian
    November 6, 2007

    We do want a blind spot though! It makes such an insignificant contribution to vision as it is, but forces your brain to extrapolate from limited information, which is exactly what it’ll do if you damage your retina somewhere else in the future.

    The eye was not designed, but natural selection has produced an eye that really is hard to beat.

  69. #69 JohnnieCanuck, FCD
    November 6, 2007

    Interesting.
    Well just to start off with simple steps, I’d like to see the Vitamin C path restored. Just a one base pair error, if I recall correctly. Next, implantable tooth buds. Then those colour receptor(s) our ancestors lost while they were burrowing away in the dirt. Wings? No, unfortunately not here on earth. Probably not even practical on the moon. Oh, how we’ve envied birds, down through the ages.

    You all don’t seem to have noticed that beyond a certain point, you are inventing aliens. Or so they would be perceived. Certainly if they can’t interbreed with their creators, they are a new species. Many a science fiction author has dealt with the conflict between a new and improved Homo Sap. II and the basic model.

    Most of these ideas will not be available as genetic retrofits or bolt-on enhancements, my wishful thinking not withstanding. Either women will be giving birth to highly modified humans, or they will be artificially gestated.

    One thing that might be self defeating would be to make the new models incapable of violence, yet so different as to attract rejection by their parents’ generation.

    It would be fascinating to be able to observe the future of GM humans. Plenty of heated arguments, I’m sure. Unfortunately there are going to be too many opportunities available for violence and persecution.

  70. #70 joe
    November 6, 2007

    How come everytime science dictates something is outdated they eventually find a use for it.

    tonsils (immunes function), tubinates (regulates lungs, hydration, sleep), apendex (creates probiotics).

    I think the idea that we know better at this point in time is just silly.

    We have come far but we still have a long way to go.

  71. #71 jim
    November 6, 2007

    while we are add it can the body come with spare plug and play parts and an instruction manuel?

  72. #72 Caledonian
    November 6, 2007

    I’ve only read half the comments so far, but I doubt anyone has mentioned immunity to viruses. Which can be trivially conferred by recoding our DNA/RNA and ribosomes to something other than the universal code.

    But that’s the universal code for a reason, Mr. Kulisz: it minimizes the chance of a mutation that changes the codon’s meaning.

    We could probably get away with changing it to some other scheme, but that would only provide immunity to existing viruses – and the viruses embedded in our DNA would be shifted along with us.

  73. #73 Caledonian
    November 6, 2007

    - Males, I really am sorry about this, but all the exposed parts are just too easily damaged. I know you will miss them, but ive moved the testes internally.

    Leads to infertility and cancer, unless you’re very careful. Possibly examining how dolphins manage would be helpful.

    The penis I have given a complete redesign – I didn’t want to get rid of it entirely because its so important for making mating enjoyable, but I moved it inside. Dont worry, it will still come out when you get aroused. Its also protected now, so you dont have such a complicated shape – its actually a bit pointed now.

    Ma’am, you’ve just eliminated the clitoris. And while it might make some things a bit simpler to redistribute the nerves in question to the vagina, I for one will be sorry to see it go. Better leave the glans where it is.

  74. #74 Spaulding
    November 6, 2007

    How about eliminating Mitochondrial DNA and adding it to the cell nucleus? That way it’s less exposed to damage from oxidation.

    And I’d love to see major improvements in DNA repair systems as in Deinococcus Radiodurans. Granted, The specifics of helical repair won’t be the same as plasmid repair, but better DNA repair and protection would mean better resistance to environmental (chemical, temperature, radiation, etc.) damage and to some of the major causes of aging.

    Maybe one day we can very, very cautiously start removing viral introns and transposons from our genome too.

  75. #75 David Marjanovi?
    November 8, 2007

    But that’s the universal code for a reason, Mr. Kulisz: it minimizes the chance of a mutation that changes the codon’s meaning.

    That’s likely, but it’s not excluded that a similar code would do just as well or even slightly better. I suppose that’s why we see slightly different codes in some organisms (and many mitochondria).

    Possibly examining how dolphins manage would be helpful.

    Rete mirabile: a network of blood vessels that leads to the skin and cools the testes.

    How about eliminating Mitochondrial DNA and adding it to the cell nucleus?

    Went on happening till the mitochondria evolved their own genetic code somewhere around the origin of animals.

  76. #76 Caledonian
    November 8, 2007

    Rete mirabile: a network of blood vessels that leads to the skin and cools the testes.

    But they’re surrounded by water, which readily lends itself to cooling hot organs. Us land-mammals don’t have access to such an elegant solution, which is why we’ve been stuck with the crude configuration we have.

  77. #77 Martin R
    December 1, 2007

    I’d like photosynthetic skin, please.

  78. #78 Julie Stahlhut
    December 31, 2007

    Human spines and knees are certainly marginal. If anyone “designed” them, it was before that someone finished his, her, or its coursework in mechanical engineering.

    Anyone who has ever suffered from anal fissures, fistula, or hemorrhoids is bound to have something colorful to say about that portion of the human anatomy. Those ailments, while not deadly, are freakin’ nasty. Seriously, I sometimes wonder how many people who have “gone postal” was having a flareup of one of those conditions at the time. While they’re at their worst, they can really make you hate life, the universe, and everything.

    And, on the subject of the female reproductive system: Those of us who have experienced the most severe form of Mittelschmerz (which, as I recall, translates as “sledgehammer blow to the hipbone”) have a few choice words on the subject as well.

  79. #79 Scott Hevner
    March 2, 2008

    Dear Mark and Chris Hoofnagle and Denialism Blog readers,

    I’ve just discovered your site and am enjoying it very much.

    I’m wondering if you have read Susan Haak’s article Science Scientism and Anti-science in an Age of Preposterism at the Skeptical Inquirer?s website http://csicop.org/si/9711/preposterism.html. The article deals with types of rhetoric (in this article primarily postmodernist) that pose as honest inquiry and how academia promotes this. She categorizes pseudo-inquiry two main types – sham (denialist) and fake (bullshitter). I’m currently reading her book Defending Science which has been given kudos on its back cover by physicist Stephen Weinberg.

    I’ve stumbled into the Nov 2007 discussion of the obvious imperfections of the supposedly perfect God-made human body. As one reader mentioned, a common response to these facts is that diseases are the consequences of sin.
    Also, in my experience, the perfection of nature is commonly used by theists as evidence for the existence of God. As you know, it is exceedingly easy to fabricate post hoc (not to mention unfalsifyable) excuses for the intensions and actions of omnipotent beings. This is a common tactic in other forms. However, obvious it may be, it seems that few people pick up on its circularity i.e. God cannot be said to have done anything before evidence of his existence is given. This, in fact, is the fallacy behind Pascal’s wager.

    When I speak with creationists (theists, and other true-believers of various stripes), one of the first things I tell them is that unless you can show me evidence of God?s existence, you cannot make claims about what he is doing. As a biologist (I have a Masters degree) whose study organisms are bumblebees, I can say that I know something about bumblebee behavior because I’ve done the experiments and also because I can show you a bumblebee. This sort of put up or shut up argument is not new. However put in this form, it effectively contrasts the degree of certainty about the claim that is made. That is, the degree of certainty of a scientific experiment replicated many times vs. a claim which is made about an entity (Gods, angels, space aliens, bigfoot etc.) that you cannot even produce.

    I also have another question that Chris may be better able to handle. In speaking with my friends in academia, including PhDs and grad students from science and also other the humanities, there seem to be many people that question or downplay the degree of danger that constituents of the extreme left (some cultural relativists, postmodernists and feminists) and right (religious extremists) pose to science, free speech and civil rights. It is often claimed that creationists are just a small vocal group that we really don?t need to worry about, just as long as we are sensitive to their views. This seemed, to myself and others, to be a view of Eugenie Scott when she spoke at Bowling Green State University a few years ago. And this, in spite of organizations like the “Discovery” Institute that want their theology to supplant not only the core of the scientific process but of all academic disciplines (Berman 2003). And the statements like those I heard Pat Robertson make in the 1980′s on the 700 Club, that “We Christians will no longer be coming to your door asking you to accept Christ, but will knock down your door and force you to accept Christ!”

    With the exception of Marshall Berman as well as Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and possibly a few others – Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, I have not seen much regarding the evaluation of the damage done by people advocating these kinds of beliefs in a systematic way, just articles here and there dealing with individual instances.

    I hope you find this topic interesting enough to delve into again. Thank you for reading my letter and I’m very interested in your reply and those of your readers.

    Sincerely
    Scott Hevner
    Bowling Green, Ohio

    Berman, Marshall 2003 Intelligent Design Creationism, a Threat to Society – Not Just Biology. National Association of Biology Teachers 65(9): 646-648.

  80. #80 Tommy
    March 7, 2008

    Excuse me! but it sounds like you are INSULTING GODS DESIGN! What is wrong with you!?!?!?! You think you can do better!?!?!?! THINK AGAIN! there are VERY good reason why EVERYTHING is where it is!

  81. #81 Dr. fekrian
    April 1, 2008

    spam

  82. #82 Dr. fekrian
    April 1, 2008

    spam

  83. #83 Carol
    April 14, 2008

    I believe that it is not the design of the body that is wrong it is the human understanding that is wrong. If you respect your body by eating healthy and appropriate exercising the body will function properly. The only reason we come across these faults in our system is because of improper care.
    The design is not wrong it is improper care.

  84. #84 LanceR
    April 14, 2008

    The only reason we come across these faults in our system is because of improper care.
    The design is not wrong it is improper care.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! That’s hilarious! Oh… wait… you were serious about that? OMG! You really don’t know much about biology, do you?

  85. #85 upali
    October 21, 2008

    pl. i want to High capacity (A3 size)pregnancy pictures in 1 week to birth.(40 week)

    thank

  86. #86 blaine
    October 21, 2008

    WOW – maybe you should start fresh and develop a human body on your own merits. It sounds like you know best of how everything works since you have a ‘masters’ in biology from a human college. Go for it. Until some SMARTER than God person is able to create their own man or animal out of minerals and dust, I will continue to believe in the ONLY logical way that this perfect world came into existence. OUR PERFECT GOD!

  87. #87 LanceR, JSG
    October 21, 2008

    Logical? You do realize that you owe me an irony meter, right?

    Logic: You’re doing it wrong.

    You may want to look up the words “perfect” and “logical”. You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

    (Heeere, troll, troll, troll! Yummy troll bait! C’mere, boy!)

  88. #88 LanceR, JSG
    October 21, 2008

    Sounds like someone didn’t get his nap. Whats the matter, did the mean old orderly take your crayons away during craft time?

    Get a grip, get a clue, get a life. Your rant is so full of Just Plain Wrong(R) crap that it would take an entire blog to discover where you lost your mind. Your last sentence is actually what PalMD has *BEEN* talking about, if you could pull your obsessive head out of your craniosacral condition long enough to read for comprehension. *CORRECTLY* determining the cause of the disease. Not making up crap to fit what you want the disease to be. Serum Negative Lyme? Do you actually believe this crap? Using *actual* science and research to heal the patient, yes. Telling the patient what he wants to hear in order to sell him whatever crap you’ve got overstocked this week, no.

    I defy you to point to *one* person PalMD has deliberately harmed in the name of profit. With evidence of course… be careful: you’re starting to tread on actionable ground.

  89. #89 LanceR, JSG
    October 22, 2008

    You do realize that blog posts aren’t valid sources, right? And quoting yourself always sounds a little Hannibal Lecter, doesn’t it?

    You really need to get an education. Open a science book. You are seriously obsessive, and need to learn some actual facts instead of the garbage you’ve been spewing.

    Oh, and the ad hominem doesn’t help.

  90. #90 PalMD
    October 22, 2008

    Great Baal, Niels, are you going to hijack every single thread on this site?

  91. #91 LanceR, JSG
    October 22, 2008

    Wow! A group named after a disease disagrees with actual doctors? I’m impressed!

    Nobody is disputing the existence of Lyme disease. Nobody is disputing that it is a nasty, virulent parasite that can have long-ranging effects on the entire body. What is in dispute is whether “Chronic Lyme Disease”, in the absence of any evidence of infection, can possibly exist.

    Your evidence presented here is simply “Is So!” There is no actual evidence, no useful information, and quoting yourself is generally considered to be bad form.

    Again, if you have *any* evidence for your claims, please show us. In the absence of evidence, keep your delusions to yourself.

    Also, you may want to look up Ad Hominem before you embarass yourself further. My saying you’re wrong *and* an asshole is not an ad hominem attack. “…and stop being a fucktard”, in the absence of actual facts, *is* an ad hominem. Learn the difference… if you can.

  92. #92 LanceR, JSG
    October 22, 2008

    …bioweaponized and genetically modified organisms including borrelia, Mycoplasma, HIV, West Nile…

    There we have it. The classic denialist/paranoiac line: these diseases were deliberately inflicted on us by… well, pick your Evil Group(tm)

    Paranoid *AND* Delusional. You need help.

  93. #93 LanceR, JSG
    October 23, 2008

    Oh, and a blatant liar, too? Can’t say I’m surprised.

    Go back to your tinfoil hat factory. You’re wrong, delusional, and annoying.

    I’m done talking to you.

  94. #94 Alyssa
    October 23, 2008

    I actually sat down to read all of the article, and every single one of y’all(‘s) comments. And I must say, I was thoroughly amused/enlightened/confused/amused(again), then enlightened all the more.
    I haven’t thought of what I’d like to truly change/get rid of/add to my body. At least not in the past. But, I think this entire discussion has opened my tiny teenage mind even further, so that I could come back here one day, and post my own little suggestion of what should be changed in the Human Body.
    I give you my thanks, for I enjoyed every letter my eyes danced upon.
    C:

    P.S. Damn those marsupials.

  95. #95 Bri
    January 23, 2009

    I would like to have seen females been given the same muscle strength and bone strength as males for those of us who like hunting, instead of childbearing, and to have a chance at overpowering/protecting ourselves from marauding males. I would also like to have seen the female hips designed better to also facilitate better stability in walking/running/landing and to lessen the Q-Angle and ‘knock-knee’ positioning in the legs which results in a much higher knee injury rate in females. Along with the better hips, I would have liked to see females given a bigger notch in the knee like a males to lessen ACL tearing. As a summary, to see us also made physically fit and strong.

  96. #96 johnny rockston
    April 3, 2009

    “The creationist response to that is to say that god DID design the human body perfectly; it is just that we are too stupid to understand that.”

    I will concede that but then it follows that god apparently did a great job creating a substandard brain ……..

  97. #97 Nicole Platte
    May 8, 2009

    SO MANY of these problems are not design problems, but functional ones caused by modern conditions of malnutrition (yes, most of us are malnourished!) and toxification. The simplest example is the wisdom teeth. Populations eating traditional, mineral-rich diets do not have problems with impacted wisdom teeth because their skulls and jaws formed properly. Nutritionally subtractive “foods” such as refined sugar, refined flour and white rice, as well as the absence of many important mineral sources and their synergistic fat-soluble vitamins (D, A, and K), has led to the degeneration of the skeleton. A pregnant mother on a modern diet lacks sufficient minerals to allow her baby’s skeleton to be fully formed, and indeed, many of the minerals the baby is built from will come from the mother’s own tissues and weaken her teeth and skeleton.

    The real genius in this is the fact that the body knows where to take these minerals from when they are in short supply. This is good design. In developing children, width of bone structure is the first thing to be sacrificed, not strength. And the width is subtracted from the jaw first, and then the skull, and then elsewhere. In an adult, minerals are drawn from the teeth before the skeleton. While this is the primary cause of tooth decay and very unpleasant, it sure beats crumbling bones earlier in life! When the situation is worse than that, fertility is cut off and thus worse deformities can be avoided. But only by stopping the progress of human reproduction!
    Sources: http://www.ppnf.org/catalog/ppnf/
    http://www.westonaprice.org/mythstruths/mtnutrition.html

    What a tragedy that we would seek to blame the designer (whatever name you apply), rather than looking at the wrongs we commit against such a brilliantly balanced system.

    The other aspect of this article worthy of note is that it focuses on anatomical/structural “issues” but ignores completely the amazing chemistry holding it all together. Let’s see someone redesign glutathione synthesis, or adrenaline!

    Many commenters have lamented that certain systems “break down too easily” or are too weak. These systems are not indeed weak, but very responsive to changes in the environment and do what they can to survive some serious assaults brought about by poor treatment of the body. And I’m not talking about tobacco use! Sugar causes heart disease. Sugar causes high cholesterol. The studies have been done and proven but the profit motive just doesn’t exist (or is in reverse) for corresponding dietary recommendations. Indeed, the truth about saturated fats is NOT that they cause heart disease, but to oppose that lie is to commit modern medical heresy.

    So let’s stop blaming our designer and take a look at ourselves from a humble and critical point of view!

  98. #98 LanceR, JSG
    May 8, 2009

    AAAAHHHH!!!! Sugar makes blind people! It causes bad backs from misconstructed support systems! It causes the blind spot in the eye by redirecting the optical nerve! Run from the almighty sugar!

    The *point* here is that there is. no. designer.

  99. #99 Anonymous
    June 11, 2009

    wow diz iz sum nazty shit lol lmafao :(

  100. #100 Jamie
    August 24, 2009

    Great post. I’ve been thinking about this topic for some time, and you list excellent examples. One clarification though, from a nerdy evolutionary biologist: you use the word “atavistic” incorrectly, in my opinion. Coming from the field of evolutionary developmental biology, I am very familiar with the notion, and it’s worth mentioning that it is a very controversial idea amongst biologists. However, an atavism is an ancestral trait that REAPPEARS in an individual, making them resemble an ancestor. For example, mutations in certain homeotic genes in fruit flies cause the halteres (small balancing organs) to be transformed into a second pair of wings. Since experts theorize that flies descended from a four-winged ancestor, this mutation has been called an atavism. In humans, wisdom teeth and the maxillary sinus are not technically atavistic. On the other hand, the presence of a vestigial tail on a human baby might be considered an atavism. I think the term “evolutionary throwbacks” is more accurate in the cases you bring up.

    Good stuff, and thanks for the post.

  101. #101 Gregg
    October 19, 2009

    Strange that this article and so many people here are railing on the human body, though the initial article is interesting. My question is: “Are the proposed improvements possible, given our body’s chemistry and construction throughout the life span from birth to death?” There are a lot of things to account for in changing just one aspect of the body, given all the changes in a lifetime. I sincerely doubt that anyone can denounce the faulty construction of the body without considering such a vast amount of data. The body is amazing in many ways! Stephen J. Gould once commented on how so many species in a certain environment are able to occupy the same space. He compared this (I believe), to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Many Christian groups use this one space by strictly coordinating the space between them, yet all use it. What I am trying to say is that all the systems of the body must coordinate for a lifetime, from zygote to elderly adult, including all the chemical pathways, structures, etc. Without a knowledge of all this, and an assumption that it is not important, it is easy to say “this is bad,” or “this is wrong” or “evolution was pushed in a weak direction here.” However, it may in fact be that no other result was possible, given a full knowledge of the body.

  102. #102 doug platt
    December 3, 2009

    if the human body works so great why dosnt it last that long?

  103. #103 S Mattison
    May 7, 2010

    I don’t see how you humans could have gone for over a hundred comments without mentioning this at least once… PANIC ATTACKS.

    See, thing is… If ever you begin to become self-hypercritical, you may trick your brain into imagining that you could accidentally suffocate yourself, or that a twitch could cause you to drive your car into oncoming traffic, or that you could have a stroke or heart attack at any time, or that you are mere moments away from ruining your life irreparably by hurting yourself or someone around you. (Not to mention, one in ten new mothers also has panic attacks with regards to taking care of her infant!)

    When you do think such crazy suppositions (either on your own or induced by any mind-altering substance or medication), your brain may decide to enter what is called “Fight or Flight mode”, characterized by an increased level of adrenaline in the bloodstream, which sets you on edge and tends to cause numb extremities, other thoughts of impending doom (one tends to invite more, and they won’t hesitate to use themselves against you!), and/or a pounding/irregular heartbeat.

    You usually won’t be able to quell your fancy new mental loops without shouting “CALM!” or “STOP!” in your mind, taking deep breaths, and reassuring yourself that you are making sure that things in your life are being dealt with as they should be. These new-found panic attacks may only happen to you all but once. They may recur. They may stay with you for the rest of your entire life, or you might get rid of them after a day, a week, a month or a year. You might feel them familiar as though you had them when you were a child or an infant. But either way, they are very problematic. You aren’t, after all, facing a tiger. Why should you be filled with enough adrenaline to fight a tiger?

    The best part is; If you are too much a skeptic, and don’t believe enough in the power of the mind, you may find yourself falling prey to them, as the only medications they have for Panic are placebos! Additionally, when the attacks cause manic depression as they are inclined to do, the medication that fights that depression can also cause that depression to become worse!

    Good times.

  104. #104 S Mattison
    May 7, 2010

    So, yeah, obviously, “The Brain” is the one part of the human body I’d design better. “Fight or Flight response/reaction/mode” just isn’t needed all too often in day to day life, anymore.

    Finally; Ask your friends. More people actually suffer from this than you would believe! (Some sources say only 1 in 10, but at least HALF my friends admitted to having it. I’d dated a girl for a year and she never actually told me she had them until I started having them! Three months and a 200 mile move later, I finally feel that they may be behind me… again…)

    And remember; the only thing we have to fear is Fear itself. Always live for the tear-jerking moments, fight for the underdog, and speak up for those who have no voice. Peace, yo!

  105. #105 S Mattison
    May 7, 2010

    One more thing, which has nothing to do with brain problems… I’ve spent quite a while thinking about this. You know, especially because I’m male. :P

    Anyhow… Every nucleus in every cell in the human body (and every other body) is filled with the DNA to reconstitute the entire body. Sure, not every cell is a stem cell. But think about it; One body knows, innately, how to recreate one body.

    Amoebas, in fact, have a perfect reproductive system. Flawlessly, they split into two daughter cells, complete facsimiles of one another. You can’t really translate that literally into the Eukaryotic kingdom, but figuratively, you can.

    There are a few creatures out there which are capable of Parthenogenesis. A few types of fish, amphibians, lizards, and certain lab mice, have discovered a way to give birth to (Parthenogenetic) daughters without the assistance of a male of the species.

    So really, we can trim ALL of the issues out that involve the males of the species (including infertility and the degrading y-chromosome), if and when we grow the balls to design Parthenogenetic humans the same way we’ve designed Parthenogenetic lab mice.

    (BTW: Parthenogenesis is backwards-compatible. A Parthenogenetic female which desires to procreate with a male will give birth to non-Parthenogenetic daughters and sons. Yes, the research has been done. No, don’t ask me for links, it’s been years, google it harder. Yes, my memory is that good.)

  106. #106 Elektra X
    May 11, 2010

    I think it would be nice if the female urinary tract were either longer or not in such close proximity to the anus. This would help prevent the high number of UTIs that women experience.

  107. #107 sreeshanu
    July 7, 2010

    sir,
    i would like to know that if in a human body prostate is being removed in a age of 80yrs, what will happen?
    secondly a man is normal in character in all means & less interest in sex & his prostate removed by open surgery, what will happen in coming days to him

  108. #108 Rich Grippo
    January 29, 2012

    You obviously are pretty clueless about the male reproductive system if you think the prostate gland only supplies 1% of the semen volume. It is more like 80-85%. And, the testicles hang down in harms way for a specific reason – they have to remain 5-7 degrees cooler than the body to be able to make healthy sperm.

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