Sport Meets Science For Health

In an article on The Superhero Genes, we learn how great athletes are helping scientists find cures for common human health problems. Scientists find high performance athletes often have special genetic coding.

Scientist Euan Ashley runs a study of Elite athletes at Stanford University. He has run studies that have found 9,200 possible genetic variants that help athletes perform above average. Among the highlights of the article, some athletes exhibit at least one of these spepa05504345 Gold medal winners China pose for photographs after the awarding ceremony of the women's Volleyball tournament for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracanazinho indoor arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 August 2016. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDSecial genetic benefits:

  • The amount of oxygen their body can use is higher than normal.
  • An unusual ability to keep blood pressure low under strain and recover quickly from athletic strain.
  • Very low levels of cholesterol (a leading cause of heart disease).
  • A higher ability to turn fat into energy which makes the athlete both more powerful and fitter.
  • Higher than normal cellular growth which can allow muscle mass to build faster.

ChinaWomenVolleyballZhuTingThis data could be used to find medical solutions that help people overcome disease and frailty.

A few counterpoints to these interesting advances.

  • The same gene that helps increase cellular growth can also help grow cancer in the body faster.
  • The same gene that helps an athlete keep his blood pressure lower can also cause a rare blood disease (a disease which the athlete could pass on to his children but he does not have the symptoms).
  • Discovering these genetic keys can help us help people in need. Could the same genetic discoveries be used in more negative ways?
  • Are there ethical questions to learning how to reproduce the genetic data that helps great athletes excel in their sports?