NEW YORK – While you won't be able to read people's minds like X2's Dr. Jean Grey, you might change the color of your skin to lime green — at least according to some experts who have studied the plausibility of the science fiction blockbuster's "mutant" premise.
"Getting superpowers through mutation is essentially impossible, but it's likely humans will begin to acquire superpowers over the next century," said Josh Calder, who runs futuristmovies.com. "We are likely to enhance ourselves in various ways that to people in the past would seem like superpowers."
While no one's going to be able to manipulate fire like Pyro or have retractable knives attached to their skeleton like Hugh Jackman's Wolverine (search), some people may be able to enhance their sense of smell like the comic book-turned-movie character.
"Animals have superpowers. They can generate electric currents or have echolocation or sonar," said Calder. "Any ability that occurs encoded in the genome is available to genetic engineers."
But genetics professor Mark Johnston is more skeptical.
"That's a little over the top," he said from his St. Louis office. "It's unlikely that you could locate a sonar gene in say, dolphins and isolate it — that's probably due to many, many genes. And it seems unlikely that by putting genes in humans, you'd have sonar. We're not set up for that."
But Johnston said Calder isn't completely off base.
"At some point, we will have the ability to enhance ourselves. Gene therapy is a big thing now. We're not doing it yet, but it will eventually work," he said. "You could ID a gene that would make a person have longer endurance. You wouldn't be Superman, but you could enhance strength or speed."
Both experts said these imagined breakthroughs don't address ethics, but would be highly controversial. To Calder, that's part of what makes X2 (search) realistic. In the film, mutants battle humans who, in some cases, want to destroy them.
"I think the movie is kind of plausible in that it suggests some of the controversy that will arise around human enhancement," he said. "We're already really upset by cloning .... People who choose to enhance themselves could be met by suspicion or even banning."
Most fans agree X-Men's draw is the idea that mutants are a group who are ostracized because they're different.
"People can relate to those characters and the analogy to puberty and all that," said Anthony C. Ferrante, editor and chief of the Web site cinescape. "It's about prejudice. There's what separates these movies from, 'Hey look, I've been bitten by a radioactive spider.'"
Paul Garder, who runs chezcomics.com, agreed that most everyone could relate to feeling like an outsider.
"I have to say that the popularity of mutants can be put down to the genetically proven fact that we are all mutants," he said in an e-mail. "Who hasn't got a mutant gene floating around in their DNA somewhere?"
Marvel Comics' illustrator Sean Chen, who used to pen Wolverine, said he's not surprised by the fanciful idea that humans could eventually mutate.
"It sounds like hokey sci-fi but there's enough science behind it that makes it intriguing," he said. "The idea is that we are constantly evolving. Every once in a while evolution takes a great leap forward."
And Chen said he could think of at least one mutation that he personally could benefit from.
"Being a New Yorker constantly under deadline, balancing work and social life, I'd like to be able to do five things at once," he said. "It would probably be a big help to grow a couple more arms."