`In­di­vid­ual ge­netic dif­fer­ences outweigh dif­fer­ences in pop­u­la­tions'

Down to Earth - - RIO 2016 -

STEPHEN M ROTH is an ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist who heads the Func­tional Ge­nomics Lab­o­ra­tory at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, USA. In an e-mail in­ter­view he talks about the ge­net­ics of sports. Ex­cerpts

Can genes pin down sports per­for­mance, and to what ex­tent?

Genes can't "pin" down sports per­for­mance per­for­mance is far too com­plex. We know that genes do con­trib­ute to sports per­for­mance, po­ten­tially con­tribut­ing to phys­i­cal traits such as strength, co­or­di­na­tion, en­durance, and men­tal traits such as fo­cus, com­pet­i­tive drive. But these traits are also in­flu­enced by en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors (train­ing, coach­ing, equip­ment). So suc­cess­ful elite ath­letes are very likely suc­cess­ful due to both some unique ge­netic con­tri­bu­tions as well as sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions.

Are per­for­mance genes more con­cen­trated in cer­tain pop­u­la­tions?

This is one of the trick­i­est ques­tions in the area of sport per­for­mance. Is there some­thing unique to Ja­maicans that makes them such strong sprint­ers? Why are Nor­we­gians such strong skiers? While this is pos­si­ble, there are also cul­tural and en­vi­ron­men­tal dif­fer­ences that cor­re­late with dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions that make these as­so­ci­a­tions very chal­leng­ing to un­der­stand. There are cer­tainly some gene vari­a­tions that are more fre­quently found in dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions, but there are so many genes that con­trib­ute to dif­fer­ent traits that it's hard to imag­ine that cer­tain pop­u­la­tions are at dis­tinct dis­ad­van­tages in most sports. As such, it ap­pears that in­di­vid­ual ge­netic dif­fer­ences do outweigh dif­fer­ences that might be ob­served in pop­u­la­tions.

How real is the threat of gene dop­ing?

I don't be­lieve this is a sig­nif­i­cant threat at present only be­cause gene ther­apy it­self needs to be so­lid­i­fied as a med­i­cal tech­nique be­fore it can "spread" to per­for­mance realms. Where there is a gene ther­apy prod­uct in an area that might be re­lated to phys­i­cal per­for­mance (e.g., gene ther­apy for mus­cle mass or strength) then it could cer­tainly be used for per­for­mance en­hance­ment. But most gene ther­apy tri­als show side ef­fects, mak­ing this very risky for use in ath­letes un­til they are more suc­cess­ful in ther­a­peu­tic sce­nar­ios. That doesn't mean it won't hap­pen. We know that ath­letes and coaches push the en­ve­lope of safety with other il­le­gal per­for­mance en­hance­ment sub­stances, but I don't be­lieve this is a se­ri­ous con­cern in 2016.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.