Genetic tests and sports performance
It is a fact that the level of athletes is increasing year after year, and proof of this are the continuous improvements in world brands that are achieved every season. For an elite athlete, it is increasingly difficult to reach the top positions, extensive knowledge in training techniques have been and will continue to be crucial for improvement, but they are not the only factor.
In this sense, advances in science and technology could be the key to improving sports performance in the coming years. What differentiates an athlete amateur of a professional? Surely you will have heard the comment of I will never reach that level, I do not have its genetics. Is the key to the matter in the genes? The study of genetics in fields such as medicine is widespread, but what do we have at the sports level? What are genetic tests? Can you give us direct answers about our performance? We explain briefly.
We could understand the genome as the instruction manual of our organism, a large library where each and every one of the characteristics we have are described as an individual The color of your eyes, your character, and even your predisposition to have a disease are described in it. So, if it's as easy as going and reading our genome, why hasn't it been exploited further?
Well, imagine now a bookstore with more than 25,000 books, and whose order is not easy to decipher. In it is the information about your hair color, but what book should you open to find this information? The recent advances in the last decade in the technologies of massive sequencing have allowed to reduce of amazing form the cost in the generation of these libraries, expanding the field of application from the medicine to for example the sport. But now comes the second part, and it is that of be able to decipher this information and know in which book we can find it.
“Humans share 95% of our DNA with chimpanzees. With these tiny differences, how do you explain the great variety among people we observe? ”
In this sense, we find more and more centers where we can perform the so-called genetic test. Until now, these tests were applied only to fields such as medicine, to know if you were prone to suffer from a certain disease; but the advances in sequencing techniques have allowed to broaden the spectrum of application to other fields, such as sports, which was waiting with open arms.
The genetic tests focus on both sides described, first generate these libraries for each individual and then through previous studies and large databases are able to relate some aspects such as your propensity for injuries, your muscular capacity or your sports resistance with the variants of your genes.
Let's go to the bottom of the matter. The genetic difference between humans is extremely small, around 0.01%. In fact, humans share 95% of our DNA with chimpanzees. With these tiny differences, how do you explain the great variety among people we observe? The answer is in small changes that produce great effects.
Each individual has genetic variations that make it unique and that is when we analyze these variations when we answer questions such as the ability we have to perform a certain sport. For example, the so-called snips in English (Single Nucleotide Polymosphism) They are single letter mutations of our genetic code (which contains more than 6.4 billion letters), but which can have consequences globally. A very radical example is the mutation of the gene that produces the so-called myostatin, a factor that inhibits muscle growth, which when inactivated by a mutation allows individuals to generate muscle mass outside normal values.
Another example would be the call "Speed gene", a polymorphism of a gene that encodes a protein, which allows the generation of fast-contracting muscle fibers, which allow it to run faster and more explosively.
"With a simple saliva sample you can get an idea of your oxygenation capacity, your resistance or your resilience"
Does it mean that we can predict whether we will be good runners according to the "version" of genes we have? No, it is not that simple. On the one hand, we have several copies of certain genes, this means that we may have a mutation in one, but it is compensated by the other copy that is not mutated. Also environmental factors such as diet, training, etc. they interfere in how that gene acts or even if it is activated or not.
Where efforts are currently heading is to generate lists of possible variations in some of our genes and the effect that these cause in different aspects. The current genetic tests are based precisely on the observation of the genes contained in these lists, which have been previously generated from the study of thousands of individuals. In this way, with a simple saliva sample you can have an idea of your oxygenation capacity, your resistance or your recovery capacity; getting this way, make training and nutrition plans much more personalized.
Even so, genetic tests can give us some clues, but they cannot guarantee that the sports performance we observe is due exclusively to our genetic makeup. Genes are important, but success is always associated with good training, diet and as always with our willpower and ability to overcome.
Dario Vazquez and Iván Martínez are two Barcelona residents currently residing in the area of Copenhagen, Denmark. Their interest in science and sports has motivated them to create content for specialized magazines.
He graduated in biotechnology from the University of Barcelona and the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He moved to Denmark in 2013 and earned his PhD in biotechnology at the Novo Nordisk Foundation. He completed a postdoctoral degree in protein immunology and engineering at the Technical University of Denmark. He is currently the manager of a research center at the same university where he performs management and scientific communication tasks. In his teens he practiced athletics at the regional level of Catalonia. During his most recent sports stage he started in triathlon and has participated in sprint, Olympic and half distance distance triathlons, qualifying for the world championship Challenge 2020 in your age group.
Degree in chemical engineering from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, he specialized in bioprocess engineering, focusing his doctoral thesis on the study of cell metabolism and the generation of drugs using animal cells. Since 2017, he has been working at the Novo Nordisk Foundation at the Technical University of Denmark, where he holds his postdoctoral degree. From a very young age, his parents gave him a great love for sports and their values, especially for the cycling he continues to practice. Currently his great passion is mountain racing and he is preparing the jump to the famous race of the Ultra Trail of Montblanc.