Scientists reveal what a ‘superwoman’ really would look like – with bat ears and a kangaroo pouch

The body beautiful? Well, hardly. With claw feet, bat ears and a truncated torso, she looks like some mythical creature from The Lord Of The Rings.

Yet this strange-looking person is in her way the perfect specimen, because if we were all built like this, we would never go deaf, heart attacks would be a thing of the past, and it would be virtually impossible to tumble over.

The fact of the matter is that the human body, although fantastic, is very far from perfect.

The new me: Alice and the 3D model of how she would look with modifications from nature 

As an anatomist, I know that millions of years of evolution have left us littered with glitches and, in my opinion, we are long overdue a makeover.

So when Roger Highfield, director of external affairs at the Science Museum, challenged me to tweak our bodies for the better, I set about picking and choosing the best modifications from nature that would iron out the evolutionary design flaws.

The results can be seen this week in a BBC4 documentary called Can Science Make Me Perfect?

My experiment is all about: bringing art and science together to create a vision of what the perfect body could do and to show what it would look like – in the form of a strange new me.

The model's ears have been inspired by those of a bat (stock image)

The model’s ears have been inspired by those of a bat (stock image)

In a way, we humans are victims of our own success because all it requires to win at evolution is that you survive long enough to pass on your genes. Once you’ve reproduced, evolution doesn’t care quite so much about you.

That leaves us with weaknesses we can’t evolve away from.

Back pain, for example, doesn’t usually affect us until our fifth or sixth decade, long after most of us have stopped reproducing.

It's slimy skin was taken from the frog (stock image)

It’s slimy skin was taken from the frog (stock image)

I first noticed we weren’t perfect when I began studying medicine a quarter of a century ago and wondered why we got colds and why our hearts were so vulnerable.

It struck me immediately that while we have useful adaptations, we also have plenty of weaknesses. That’s why we have ears that stop hearing, throats vulnerable to choking and skin that is easily damaged. What, I wondered, if we could shed bits of evolutionary baggage and seize the best that the animal kingdom has to offer? Can an octopus open our eyes to better vision, and could a kangaroo teach us something about childbirth?

Inspired by dogs, cats, cephalopods, fish, swans and chimps, my model has a better heart with more arteries than a human being, lungs that are more efficient, eyes with no blindspots, ears that pick up sound better, legs that are more efficient, and reptilian skin which reacts fast to block damaging ultraviolet rays.

My pale skin probably developed when my forebears lived in the cold northerly latitudes where there was very little sun. But it means that it is easily damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet rays, leaving it vulnerable to premature ageing and skin cancer. I opted for amphibious skin. It changes instantly from light to dark to let in light or to block ultraviolet rays.

Having given birth to two children, Alice says she is a big fan of having the kangaroo's pouch (stock image)

Having given birth to two children, Alice says she is a big fan of having the kangaroo’s pouch (stock image)

Our lungs aren’t a great design either. They do the job of getting oxygen to our brain and vital organs, but the way they are constructed means we have never quite got rid of the old air before we breathe in the new.

Birds have a different set-up that involves air being drawn into air sacs in the abdomen and chest. They contract to keep the air flowing through the passageways of the lungs in one direction. In other words, they don’t have to breathe out. It makes absorbing oxygen into the blood and getting rid of carbon dioxide more efficient.

Of course, there are losses as well as gains.

I traded agility for speed when I altered my legs and replaced my feet – and that means my chances of climbing a mountain are zero.

But I think it’s worth it – even though I screamed when I saw the final 3D model of my creation, made for BBC4 and the Science Museum by anatomical artist Scott Eaton and special-effects model-maker Sangeet Prabhaker.

On reflection, I don’t like the look of the bird-like legs. But having given birth to two children, I’m a big fan of having the kangaroo’s pouch.

  • Can Science Make Me Perfect? is on BBC4 on Wednesday at 9pm