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Performance Genetics and Sports

Monday, September 6, 2021

Human genome project: Introduction

The human genome project was officially launched in 1990 to investigate the number and structure of our genes that make up human beings and are estimated to be approximately 2-2.5 million when the project started. This is the highest budget project implemented until 1990.

The first, official and draft results of the project were announced in 2001 and 99.9% of the project was completed in 2003. It was thought that this project would lead the studies on the use of this project primarily for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. However, as the structure and functions of the genes were deciphered, it was determined that the genes were responsible for many features ranging from human anatomical structures to physiological structures. Population surveys in addition to the human genome project have shown that different populations or certain ethnic groups are different from other populations in some aspects. For example, the muscles and bone masses of black people are higher than the white race.

A clear understanding of the roles and structures of genes has attracted the attention of sports scientists. Could it be that the main reason why certain races or societies are more successful in certain sports is their genetic structure? question is one of the topics discussed by many sports scientists or sports commentators.

Human genome project: Sports predisposition

The first factor in the success of athletes is undoubtedly that disciplined work. One of the most important criteria on the way to success is that he does not interrupt the training programs applied to him and that he lives athletically. However, the failure of the disciplined and hard working athletes to achieve their desired success has highlighted other factors in sports success. For example, the best answer to the question of what factors are important in branch selection or in-branch orientation is the person’s susceptibility to sporting activity. This susceptibility may be mental or anatomic or physiological as determined by our genes.

Based on data from 2011, up to 200 genes have been identified that affect performance and sporting activity in humans. These genes can be the ones that determine the structure and types of our muscles or our anatomical features that determine the bone structure and thickness, or the genes that regulate the contraction of muscles, transporting more oxygen to the muscles and mitochondrial activities. Some changes in these genes may cause some characteristics to be different in individuals and societies from the same ancestor. The best example of this is the Finnish skier Eero Antero Mäntyranta, who won the cross-country championship at the 1964 Winter Olympics. In the analyzes, a difference in the erythropoietin (EPO) hormone-sensing molecule (receptor), which is responsible for the production of erythrocytes carrying oxygen in the athlete, ensures that the number of erythrocytes in the athlete is higher than normal and provides the athlete with a selective advantage in energy metabolism.

Likewise, residues in the muscle cells as a result of respiration pass into the blood more slowly due to some changes in the carrier molecules that will transfer themselves from the cells to the blood, and this slow passing event makes the person fatigue later. In this case, it is an advantage that makes the athlete more durable. It is possible to replicate these kinds of samples and it is clear that these differences in our genes give individuals new features.

Most studies in the field of sports genetics have focused on African athletes who are particularly successful in long distance running. The success of these athletes is hidden in the genes of the sports scientists focused on the many studies in this direction. Some of these studies yielded meaningful results, while others did not provide the expected results. They reported that African athletes, especially since their early ages, walked long distances both for school and work for a day, increasing their endurance. However, other studies have indicated that the most important factors that increase endurance in these athletes are the genetic structures of individuals.

Research on sports genetics

The most important study conducted to date is to determine the relationship between ACTN3 gene and sprinter which is thought to increase sprinter property in athletes. There are two forms of this gene. They stated that if individuals have the “R” form (allele) of this gene, individuals have sprinter characteristics and in case of “X” allele, individuals have resistant properties. Of course, although there are different results apart from these findings, the studies conducted generally supported the findings. Many sports schools in Japan and Australia analyze this gene and guide the athletes.

The increase in the number of these studies will not only provide us with information in terms of determining the genetics distribution in our society, but also obtain results in a way that supports a specific sport branch or supports orientation within a sports, and will allow future athletes to be guided in accordance with their genetic predisposition at an early age. Some sports clubs in our country started this kind of work, but could not bring the full end. Many sports clubs abroad make the sports orientation of individuals according to these parameters.

Sportive predisposition refers to the suitability of an athlete for any sport anatomically and physiologically. For example, people with a faster, anaerobic metabolism of muscle contraction are more likely to become a more successful sprinter with a good training program in athletics. However, in sports such as boxing and judo, the individuals whose genetics structure is suitable for durability are more likely to gain superiority to their rivals by tiring more competition or athletes having fast genetic structure. Increasing the efficiency of athletes with training programs appropriate to their genetic structure will enable the achievements to be achieved.

The most studied gene in sports genetics studies is the ACTN3 gene, which allows muscles to contract in a shorter time. The form of this gene, called the sprinter, is more common in the black race. Perhaps this is why the vast majority of successful sprinters to date are black athletes. The other form of this gene is also considered to provide resistance and this allele is more common in eastern countries. Therefore, successful athletes in branches such as wrestling or judo are of eastern origin. The myostatin gene in our body prevents unnecessary growth of our muscles. Mutations in this gene may make individuals more muscular than normal. Perhaps this could lead to the development of a good weightlifter. Similarly, mutations at the receptor of the EPO hormone will induce more efficient oxygen metabolism in individuals and bring success to athletes in endurance sports such as cycling or triathlon.

When we say sports in the world, the first branch that comes to mind is football. Endurance, speed and mentality are the most important factors in football. Almost all teams around the world no longer break with the match in terms of condition until the end of the match, at least until the last quarter of the match. Despite the same practice, each football player, despite the athletes live in accordance with the morality of the end of the match is more difficult than his friends. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for this is that a player with sprinter characteristics cannot use his energy efficiently. Knowing the genetic structure of the players, even at least in terms of sprinter-speed, will enable that athlete to be used more efficiently. Thus, perhaps in 5-10 years, individual training programs will be the most important criterion in improving the performance of athletes.

With the help of developing technological and scientific techniques, the costs of analyzing genetic characteristics in individuals have been reduced to a minimum. In this way, directing individuals to sports activities appropriate to their genetics structure will allow elite athletes to be trained. In this context, in the long run, such approaches and investments will be much higher than expected in both athletes and clubs.

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