Magazine article Science News

Getting a Speed Boost from DNA. (Turbo Gene)

Magazine article Science News

Getting a Speed Boost from DNA. (Turbo Gene)

Article excerpt

Whether you're better suited to run a marathon or a 100-meter sprint correlates with a gene called ACTN3, researchers find.

The gene encodes the protein [alpha]-actinin-3, which functions in the so-called fast-twitch muscles. These muscles give the extra power needed for brief and vigorous bursts of activity, such as sprinting and speed skating.

Previous studies revealed that about one out of five white people in Australia has a variant of the ACTN3 gene that cannot yield [alpha]-actinin-3. Because people with the deficiency seem healthy, the protein appears to be unimportant for day-to-day activities. Most likely, it's significant only "in the extremes of performance," says Kathryn North of the Children's Hospital at West-mead in Sydney, Australia.

That's where the athletic connection comes in. North and her colleagues theorized that because the protein affects fast-muscle fibers, a deficiency of [alpha]-actinin-3 might be detrimental to speedy running and thus less likely to occur in elite sprinters.

To test their theory, the researchers genetically screened a group of world-class athletes, including Australian Olympic competitors, and a control group of nonathletes. All the participants were white. The scientists divided the athletes into two groups: sprinters, which included speed skaters, and endurance athletes, such as marathon runners and rowers.

Of the sprinters, 6 percent had the gene variant leading to [alpha]-actinin-3 deficiency. That's one-third the rate for nonathletes, 18 percent of whom carried the variant. …

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