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What role do genetics play in athletic performance?

Growing up playing soccer, I found it infuriating, and a little bit unfair, that some teammates effortlessly mastered new ball-handling techniques, passed fitness tests and scored goals. These players seemed to possess a natural propensity for the sport that others and I lacked. Or did they?

As scientists learn more about the function of specific genes, their research is providing new answers about what role genetics play in athletic performance. Sports Illustrated reports:

The study of sports genes has identified specific genes, such as ACTN3, that help explain why some people will probably never run a 4.3 in the 40. Genetic research has also suggested that some athletic phenomena that appear to be entirely genetic may have critical environmental factors, while others that appear to be entirely feats of will may have important genetic components. Scientists are rapidly identifying more performance genes and working to tease apart their subtle influences...

...In the near future the study of genetics promises to tell us more about who we are as individual athletes, how much we can change and how best to go about it. "Genes do not act in a vacuum," notes Bernd Heinrich, a biologist and author and the 1981 North American 100K champion. Heinrich, who grew up running to school, insists that "genes are very plastic. They can be turned on or off. Look at a caterpillar and a butterfly: They've got the same genes. One flies, and one can barely crawl."

The entire article is worth reading and offers insight into how early humans evolved athletically and whether science will one day allow for the genetically engineering of the perfect athlete.

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