Scientists are still uncertain about genetics and athletics

By Mike Melia
May 12 2010

Great athletes are often referred to as "naturals" in their respective sports, but how much of their talent can be traced back to DNA is still uncertain to scientists. Are there genes that make some of us fantastic sprinters? Was Michael Jordan just born with the right mitochondrial makeup to be a basketball star

Since the release of the full human genome in 2003, researches have been trying to pinpoint the specific genes and genetic mechanisms for everything from diseases to intelligence. Athletics is no exception. In this week's Sports Illustrated, which hits newsstands Wednesday, David Epstein writes about the latest research to examine how much of athletic performance is genetic.

"Essentially everybody falls in the muddled middle, differing by only a handful of genes," Epstein writes. "It's as if we've all played genetic roulette over and over, moving our chips around, winning sometimes and losing sometimes and gravitating toward mediocrity."

However, other studies have highlighted the impact of environmental factors on athletic performance. Ethiopians and Kenyans hold claim to the 18 fastest marathon times in history, and the top 10 100-meter sprinters are all of African descent. Genetically however, Ethiopians and Kenyans vary widely, more so than general populations outside of Africa. Yannis Pistaladis of the University of Glasgow has been studying the East African runners and found that 81 percent of elite Ethiopian runners relied on running to get to and from school as children.

Source, PBS NewsHour