Genetics and sports


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What do we know now?

Mike Melia Mike Melia. Are there genes that make some of us fantastic sprinters? Was Michael Jordan just born with the right mitochondrial makeup to be a basketball star? Since the release of the full human genome in , researchers have been trying to pinpoint the specific genes and genetic mechanisms for everything from diseases to intelligence. Athletics is no exception.

There are some genetic markers that have been identified to contribute to athletic ability. The ACTN3 gene, for example, has been linked with speed.

How important are they in an athlete's success?

We all have two copies of ACTN3, which controls the production of a protein found in muscle fibers responsible for explosive or quick movement. Although we all have two copies of the gene, it comes in two variants, an R and X. The X variant prevents the protein for being created, so having two X variants of ACTN3 blocks the muscles from getting this quick movement protein. However, other studies have highlighted the impact of environmental factors on athletic performance. Ethiopians and Kenyans hold claim to the 18 fastest marathon times in history, and the top 10 meter sprinters are all of African descent.

How do personal genetics and athletics intersect?

Genetically however, Ethiopians and Kenyans vary widely, more so than general populations outside of Africa. As an example of how athletes can reach similar performance levels through different genetic pathways, Epstein compared himself to an old college teammate.


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While Epstein said running came naturally to his teammate, he had to work many times harder to achieve the same level of performance. This led him to theorize that while he had a low baseline running ability but the potential for rapid growth, his teammate had a high baseline running ability with less room to improve.

Talent vs Training

This allowed both runners to reach similar levels of skill, but the New York Times review pointed out how the difference in their paths changed the way they were perceived. Epstein argues, and many of the ones we tell are flat wrong. The narratives that come out of genetic testing in sports can be as unexpected as they are wrong. In an article published on Bicycling.

Genetics and Athletics: Is It in You? | PBS NewsHour

While Gifford is the first to admit he is far from an elite cyclist, he said he expected at least an above average rating. Eventually this led him to wonder whether there was either a mistake with his test or if it provided incomplete information. To find out, Gifford sent additional genetic tests to different companies and persuaded some professional cyclists to take part to see how their results compared. Retired cyclist Jens Voigt and Olympic cyclist Taylor Phinney both had high aerobic potential, but former professional Phil Gaimon received the same result as Gifford.

Whereas gene therapies such as Repoxygen presumably can be detected through DNA sequencing of suspected abusers, other substances and techniques used to manipulate genes may not be easily distinguished from substances that occur naturally in the body. Gene doping.

A search for genes for performance

Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Written By: Kara Rogers. See Article History. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Cell , in biology, the basic membrane-bound unit that contains the fundamental molecules of life and of which all living things are composed.

Genetics and sports Genetics and sports
Genetics and sports Genetics and sports
Genetics and sports Genetics and sports
Genetics and sports Genetics and sports
Genetics and sports Genetics and sports
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