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The Elite Genes that Make an Olympic!

Updated on December 5, 2012
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The Olympic games in London have seen around 66 Olympic records and 30 world records broken for now thanks to athletes like Missy Franklin, Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and many more. Of course, when watching those athletes running or swimming with such incredible fitness, strength and agility you cant help feeling slightly depressed and physically impaired compared to these superior physical abilities. You can of course blame your full time office job or the lack or extracurricular activities in your work place; but the bottom line lies in the fact that these professional athletes are committed to daily vicious training routine and special diets to reach such optimal world breaking records that we mediocre, average humans can't even dream of grasping.

One theory that came to help us understand such superior abilities is the partial role that genes play in making an athlete (1). Some athletes have the advantage of being naturally taller or by having more fast twitch muscles which enable them to sprint better. The director of the Copenhagen Muscle Research Institute, Bengt Saltin, stated that the environmental factors accounts for no more than 25 percent of athletic ability. The rest comes down to the roll of the genetic variability between population, with each population group having distinct advantages in their genes (2).

Science is also highlighting the presence of elite genes in some athletes giving them the benefit to become above the normal standards in some sports compared to others. An article in Nature stated that 'almost every male Olympic sprinter and power athlete ever tested carries the 577R allele, a variant of the gene ACTN3' (1, 3). This gene is expressed in skeletal muscle fibre and could have an effect on athletic performance. Another example is Olympic medalist Eero Mntyranta, who was found to carry a mutation in his EPOR gene that enabled him to produce 25 percent more red blood cells than the norm and thus advancing his performance. A study of British runners found that those who run long distances often have a certain variant of the gene ACE which seems to increase humans endurance (3).

The Nature article authors, argue further that these types of mutations give athletes an unfair advantage over others that may have the same training environment, they even suggest that it can be a matter of time before we see the -genetically modified athletes- being introduced by using gene therapy to artificially produce such mutations in athletes and give them superior traits over their peers (1). Thus, unless we introduce gene doping tests and regulation soon, genetic modification will certainly catch athletes attention as being highly effective in increasing their performance and extremely difficult to be detected by normal doping tests used today.


References:

1. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v487/n7407/full/487297a.html

2. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/08/11/what-makes-a-great-olympian-sometimes-it-s-genetics.html

3. http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/blog/5864/could-you-be-olympic-athlete

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