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Do Elite Athletes Have a Genetic Advantage?

By Nick Tate   |   Friday, 27 Sep 2013 04:28 PM

Tough training regimens are clearly one reason elite athletes perform as well as they do. But new research suggests athletes who excel in power sports may also have a genetic advantage over the general population.
In a study published this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, scientists from the University of Szczecin, Poland, have identified a variation in the so-called AGT gene is two to three times more common in elite power athletes, compared to non-athletes and even those who engage in endurance sports.
"[The] variant in the AGT may be one of the genetic markers to investigate when an assessment of predisposition to power sports is made," said lead researcher Paweł Cięszczyk.
The researchers analyzed DNA samples from two groups of elite Polish athletes: 100 who engaged in power-lifting, short-distance runners, and jumpers; and 123 endurance athletes, such as long-distance runners and swimmers and rowers. All athletes competed at the international level, such as the World and European Championships, World Cups, or Olympic Games. A third group of 344 nonathletes were studied for comparison.
The analysis focused on the genotype of the M235T polymorphism of the gene AGT.

"Polymorphisms" are genes that can appear in two different forms (alleles). A previous study found that the "C" allele of the AGT gene (as opposed to the "T" allele) was more frequent among elite athletes in power sports.
The DNA tests found that elite power athletes were more likely to have two copies of the AGT gene mutation, which means they inherited them from both parents. The variant was found in 40 percent of the power athletes, compared to 13 percent of endurance athletes, and 18 percent of non-athletes.
The AGT gene plays essential roles in regulating blood pressure, body salt, and fluid balance. Researchers believe it might predispose athletes to improved power and strength capacity.
"Identifying genetic characteristics related to athletic excellence or individual predisposition to types of sports with different demands [power or endurance oriented] or even sport specialty may be decisive in recognizing athletic talent and probably will allow for greater specificity in steering of sports training programs," Cięszczyk said.

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