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The Future of Sport Performance

The Super Athlete

by Calvin Zaryski

The future in athletic development and ultimately super human performances is most likely dictated by genetic make up rather than equipment, training methods or psychological factors. Superior physiological traits will be necessary for a human to run a sub two hour marathon. This accomplishment seems to be realistic based on current trends in world record times. Assuming no artificial and illegal manipulation transpires, human evolution specific to this task could take 100 years with a perfect blend of genetic contribution, along with ideal conditioning and mental constitution.

Naturally, and certainly more probable now than twenty years ago, a perfect match could occur steering genetic engineering towards superhuman traits. More commonly, world-class athletes of the same sport are producing offspring and raising them with competitive values and environmental shaping. This matching certainly does not guarantee to produce superior offspring, but can increase the odds of harvesting the perfect combination to lay the infrastructure necessary to be the next super athlete. I am obviously over simplifying, but we could see further mutations in their already unique athletic code that could push the human limits further, faster or stronger.

Natural evolution takes time and in the world of high performance, some short cuts are already in the works. As we enter the next decade of sport, scientists are now identifying and isolating genetic code that is responsible to engineer superior athletic traits, so called fitness gene codes. In 1980, a team of Canadian scientists isolated the first actual gene responsible for improved adaptation to training called the ACE gene. Since this time, there have been over 100 genes relating to physical performance and athletics.

Specific to the sub two hour marathon, a variant of this ACE gene, which has an additional DNA strand, is responsible for improving the efficiency of the muscles aerobic power. Not only enhance the muscles cells ability to produce more energy, but this specific genetic mutation can divert a useful percentage of heat energy created by substrate metabolism back into usable energy, thus improving muscle endurance as well. Not all endurance athletes have this specific gene, but scientist can actually identify, isolate and potentially “ insert” this super charged trait via gene manipulation.

Furthermore, scientists can actually screen young children and classify them as endurance or strength athletes using genetic typing. A biotech company in Australia claims to have this exact screening procedure. The test costs about 45 AUS and time will tell if this process produces more world records in our near future. If this screening can guide young athletes into more directed and focused training earlier in development, we may see a significant leap in human performance.

The real issue in this biogenetic technology involves gene therapy and doping. Currently specific genes that can code for proteins/hormones, capable of enhancing sport traits, can be produced artificially and then implanted to boost physical performance. A gene therapist can sequence the particular human gene into a retrovirus that targets the required tissue. Viruses are all made of DNA and they are looking for a chromosomal home or cell. Once it finds its home, more inserted copies can be made ultimately changing the characteristics of the cell. The process is very complicated but already positive results are being illustrated using this technique.

 

This biotechnology allows scientists to interrupt cell replication and tamper with natural sequencing and length of DNA strands. It may be possible to replace normal fitness genes with superhuman ones that are created in the laboratory. Gene doping could revolutionize sport as we know it, and it may not be detectible. Most probable tissues that gene intervention would occur is bone marrow and blood formation, heart and skeletal muscle, mitochondria (power houses of the muscles cells), acid-neutralising buffers, muscle capillary blood vessels and possibly connective tissue. It is possible that in 50 years time, all of these traits can be artificially enhanced and we can create the super athlete well before mother nature intended.

 

In the world of producing World records or Olympic medals, talent identification, (either from recognizing passed on genes by athletic parents, or genetic screening), will be an ongoing process that certainly can direct a young athlete into sport. There is no harm nor ethical issues in talent identification. However, bioscience is beginning to offer other means of not just identifying but creating superior athletes. Gene doping and gene therapy are techniques that will continue to become a reality as scientists push the boundaries of human nature. Whether or not this practice is ethical in sport or even safe in long term human development is yet to be debated. It is just a matter of time when the bioscience world of curing disease becomes the playground for creating the super athlete. So it is not a matter of IF a sub 2 hour marathon will ever happen but rather, WHEN will a sub 2 hour marathon occur? If we wait for mother nature to guide this feat, it could be 100 years, but if the scientists have their way, it could happen in our next decade…

Author: Calvin Zaryski MKin, CEP

coachcal@criticalspeed.com  CriticalSpeed.com


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