Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Superphysiques

By Tim Olds

Why did André become a giant, and the people of Manus Island the most muscular?

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In 1958 in a village north of Paris, a French farmer asked an Irish expat if he could drive his son André to school in his truck. The problem was that, at 12 years old, André was already 191 cm tall and weighed 110 kg, and would not fit into the school bus. “The whole way,” André complained, “he talked about nothing except cricket”.

The Irishman was Samuel Beckett, who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. Beckett was a minor cricket luminary, having played for Ireland at a time when the Irish were even worse at cricket than they are now.

We’ll see what became of André later – he was to end up much richer and more famous than Beckett – but first let’s see what causes conditions like his.

Growth is largely regulated by a number of hormones, notably human growth hormone, testosterone and insulin. Hypersecretion of human growth hormone, in particular, may arise from pituitary tumours or genetic variants, and stimulates unfettered growth. Young children can achieve near-adult heights: the records are 141 cm at 3 years, 156 cm at 4, and 182 cm at 7. The tallest man who ever lived, Robert Wadlow, measured 163 cm when he was just 5, eventually growing to 272 cm.

Tallness has always exerted a popular fascination. In 1675, Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia created a special regiment called the Potsdam Giants. It never saw battle, but...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.