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              Since finishing the sequencing of the human genome in 2003, millions of individuals around the globe have been curious as to what story their DNA tells. Recently, thousands upon thousands of individuals are being tested for athletic performance. Some wish to know if they possess variants on particular genes associated with elite athletes while others wish to know if they should focus on endurance or strength athletic events. Either way, there has been much controversy over the legitimacy of these tests.

              More than 200 genes have been linked to physical performance, and 20 variants have been associated with the status of elite athlete. Two mutations in particular have received much attention: the ACE gene and the ACTN3 gene. The ACE gene helps to regulate blood pressure and cardiac and respiratory efficiency. This is important information to an athlete. One variant of the gene suggests that the individual is predisposed for endurance events while the other suggests that the individual should focus on power and strength events. The ACTN3 gene codes for a protein that regulates fast-twitch muscle fibers. The variant ACTN3 R577X has been associated with Olympic-caliber sprinters.

              Though many studies have been conducted, there is still much to learn about these genes. For example, almost one-third of those living in the United Kingdom carry the ACTN3 variant, but only a small percentage are elite sprinters. Other factors come into play regarding one’s athletic performance. These include diet, training, and determination. Genes alone do not determine if one becomes an elite athlete.

              I found this article particularly fascinating because 23andme has a report that tells users if they are likely endurance or power types. According to my report, I am likely a sprinter. Interestingly enough, over past summer, I began running longer distances. This certainly makes me question how much the variants in our genes affect our physical performance and how much is due to other environmental factors.

Salamon, Maureen. "Genetic Testing for Athletic Ability." Genome Magazine. Genome, 23 June 2016. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.

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4 Comments

  1. I looked into the studies of the ACTN3 gene as well! I gave my presentation on how this gene influences muscle performance, so I also find this article fascinating. I never knew about the ACE gene, but I think it's so cool how this gene is linked to regulating blood pressure and cardiac and respiratory effciency, which are all crucial components to an athlete. I happened to see my genotype for ACTN3 and I was C/T, which means I do have the protein that contributes to fast-twitch muscle fibers. This makes sense for me, though, since I have swam competitively my whole life and was a sprinter. In swimming, there was always a big difference between the sprinters and distance swimmers and their training, so it is interesting to see how genes can potentially influence your performance. Since you said you are reported to have sprint-favored genes, yet have been an endurance athlete, this shows how impacting the environment is to our bodies and how although our genes may tell us one thing, we can more or less "force" our bodies to behave a different way. 

    Also, I have a friend who is an incredibly elite swimmer at Michigan State. There was a news article published about him, and the headline was "Piper has Right Genes to Excel in Pool." this was referring to how his father was a very well known swimmer, as well as his older brother being an equally elite swimmer. This makes me wonder if muscle performance is greatly influenced by your parents' genes, and what makes a "first-generation" elite athlete whose parents weren't as athletic different from an athlete whose fast-twitch muscle fiber genes run in the family.

  2. I also wonder exactly how much athletic performance is driven by genes, and how much is shaped by environment! Like you, 23andMe reported that I am a "likely sprinter", but I strongly prefer endurance running. But since I don't like sprinting and I've never seriously trained for it, I don't actually know for sure that I wouldn't be better at sprinting than distance running! I don't think genetics has a strong impact on physical ability at the amateur level, as amateurs (like me) rarely train to their full physical potential... instead, their ability is much more heavily shaped by how much free time they can dedicate to their sport, and whether they are invested in seriously improving their skills or just taking part to have fun. Professional athletes, on the other hand, train to their personal physical limits, so I'd guess genetics plays a larger role in determining what their peak performance will be.

  3. Based on this article and my 23andMe results, I question how accurate these reports are. I was reported to likely be a sprinter, but this is not the case. In high school I threw discus and javelin for Track and Field. During our workouts we would have days where we did long distance running and other days where we did sprints. I was much better at long distance running than I was at sprinting. Compared to my other team mates, I was one of the slower sprinters, but I excelled at long distance - or slow twitch - training. 

    Emma mentioned she was curious about how much is gene related and how much is environment because she did not ever do any intense training. While my practices definitely do not compare to the training of elite athletes, our practices were between 15 to 20 hours a week, which is not a short amount of time. I feel that if this gene did have a significant role in whether you are a sprinter or endurance athlete, I would have began to close the distance between my success at distance running compared to sprinting. 

  4. I actually did a paper about this a couple years ago.  Some researchers tested a group of athletes and found the some had the muscular structure of an athlete while others did not.  What was interesting about this was that those who did not have the muscular structure of an athlete felt more accomplished because they where performing at a similar level to those that did have that muscle structure.  This study shows that athleticism isn't purely genetic, and that it is heavily based on environmental factors.  

    For me, finding out that I had fast twitch muscles wasn't news to me.  As a high school athlete, I ran 100 meter hurdles in Track and Field, and on the UIowa Rugby team, I play wing (basically just sprinter the entire time).  However, over the summer I worked on endurance running and trained myself to run long distance.  For this reason, I feel like as you train, genetics becomes less and less important and environmental factors become more important.