02 December 2010

Sports genes

Competition code
Alexey Torgashev, Svetlana Kiryukhina
"Russian Reporter" No. 47-2010

Perhaps in a few years, the selection of promising children in sports schools will be carried out exclusively according to genetic analysis. Even now, scientists are able to recognize a child's predisposition to certain types of physical activity and recommend a sport that he should do.

Twin brothers Oleg and Andrey Glotov, researchers at the D. O. Ott Research Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology in St. Petersburg, specialize in predicting the future from the human genome. Andrey Arshavin and Nikolay Valuev, who ordered a genetic passport for themselves, seem to be convinced that they have chosen the right kind of activity and are not going to change it.

We have been conducting these studies since 2002. Together with the Institute of Physical Education, "sports panels" were developed and tested on Russian groups – groups of the most significant sports markers, – says Andrey Glotov.

What is a genetic passport? Of course, this is not a full-scale decoding of the genome, complete DNA sequences have been read today in no more than 200 people. This field of science is developing rapidly, but so far the decryptions cost tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, exhaustive knowledge about specific DNA is still important only for science, but it cannot be applied in practice: scientists in most cases simply do not know how variations in genes affect the body.

But in the last ten to fifteen years, certain statistics have been accumulated, and now, based on certain variants of certain genes, it is possible to predict: this person has a high risk of Alzheimer's disease, this person will tolerate a lack of oxygen well, and this blood pressure will most likely not allow him to become a champion in biathlon. There are few variations identified in this way, but they exist, and their list, compiled for a specific person, is just a genetic passport.

– We study from 9 to 34 genes from different body systems, – explains Oleg Glotov. – The minimum amount is nothing more than a hint needed to orient a person to a particular type of sports activity. Each of these genes has several variants that occur in different people. We determine which variant of the gene that affects the development of the cardiovascular system you have, for example, and recommend whether it is worth doing cyclic sports or gaming. Moreover, we can also suggest a training regime. Nine genes are the minimum set, one gene from each system. It's cheap, fast, but very approximate. The more genes you examine, the more accurate the prognosis. Today, 34 genes are the optimal number, these are the genes whose variations have been studied more or less well. But the list is constantly being updated and changed.

A full sports genetic passport will cost the customer 30 thousand rubles. It contains data on variations in "sports" genes, recommendations on physical activity, training regime, nutrition, and possible risks of diseases.

The first person to engage in genetic testing of athletes was the Englishman Humen Montgomery, who published an article about it in the journal Nature more than ten years ago. He investigated variations in the angiotensin-converting enzyme gene in climbers. An enzyme with such a complex name plays a key role in the regulation of blood pressure. Montgomery found out that a high level of the enzyme in the blood increases adaptability to loads and seems to be useful for an athlete, but, on the other hand, it is better for a person with such genetics not to rise above 7000 meters: the enzyme tries so hard to adapt the body to altitude as soon as possible, which leads him to a heart attack.

Since then, hundreds of scientific papers have appeared not only on this gene, but also on other systems, which formed the basis of medical recommendations. According to Glotovs, genotypes can be divided into three categories: hardy type, power and intermediate. The conventionality of classification is explained by the fact that each type has its own subtypes depending on the individual characteristics of the organism.

People belonging to the intermediate type are unlikely to become record holders. But under certain conditions, such as a properly organized environment, strong motivation, competent training, they can achieve success in some sports. Their advantage is that they can perform both strength exercises and compete in endurance. People belonging to the other two categories, without compromising their health, mainly for the cardiovascular system, can only perform "their" exercises.

Athletes predisposed to endurance are more promising in cross-country skiing, long-distance running, cycling. Athletes of the speed-power type will show the best results in weightlifting, wrestling, boxing. If a boxer "by nature" will engage in cycling, his heart may not be able to withstand training and competitive loads.

Science in closed modeThe study looks like this.

Blood is taken from a vein, then DNA is extracted from it and the genes responsible for the development of athletic qualities are studied. The study of one particular gene system costs 2-3 thousand rubles. A full sports genetic passport will cost the customer 30 thousand rubles. It contains data on variations in "sports" genes, medical recommendations on physical activity, training regime, nutrition, and possible risks of diseases.

– The main customers of the athlete's genetic passport are parents, – comments Oleg Glotov. – In addition to analyzing the physical condition of the child, his genes are compared with a database of genes of highly qualified athletes in various sports. This allows you to more accurately choose a sport, a training process and even a game role.

At the beginning of the year, the D. O. Ott Institute, together with the SKA hockey club, launched the program "Genetic passport of a hockey player". Within the framework of this project, several professionals playing in the KHL, as well as young athletes born in 1994 and 1998 were examined: in order to understand what factors influence sports results, scientists selected children who differed in the level of achievements in sports based on the assessments of coaches. In addition to genetic predisposition at this age, sports success may depend on the physical development of the child, the speed of puberty, the frequency of training, even on the motivation of parents.

– The doctor initially explained the purpose of the study to us, and we decided that it would be useful for my son to know what his chances are in hockey, – says Tatiana, the mother of one of the children who took part in the study. – Of course, when a child is very fond of something since childhood, it is very difficult to change the occupation. But after all, no one sets categorical tasks. They explained to us that my son has more developed endurance than speed. We can still find ourselves in skiing and swimming.

It is still difficult to say how the results of the first study will affect the work of the SKA hockey club: we need analyses of a larger group. But for each child who took part in the study, the athlete's passport is an individual navigator for later life. And it doesn't matter whether it will be directly related to sports or not.

– Genetic testing of an athlete is a new direction, but if it does not find application in the near future, it may turn into a defeat for our country, – says Peter Lidov, a member of the Sochi 2014 medical working group, head of medical programs of the Russian Tennis Federation.

Lidov's opinion has a basis. As already mentioned, comparative genetics – the study of gene variations – is developing very quickly. Genetic testing of a person in general and an athlete in particular is a new area in which the process of accumulating statistics is currently underway: more and more genomes are being investigated, the dependences of the body's abilities on genotypes are being established, test systems are constantly being revised. For example, now it is already possible, without deciphering the whole genome, to look at 900 thousand variations in a variety of genes. But scientists are not yet able to identify significant ones among them and determine how these variations affect the body.

– In most countries, scientific work on sports genetics, as well as on recruits (genetic testing for the army. – "PP") are now in closed mode, – says Oleg Glotov. – Montgomery's publications have ceased to appear in the open press since about 2006, since he moved to the United States and moved from pure science to applied research.

So if we want to develop applied genetics, especially in big sports, then we will have to do it ourselves.

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