Genomics could hold the key to improved athletic performance

Genomics is a scientific discipline that may have significant impact on the future of athletics at all levels.

The human body consists of approximately 50 trillion cells.  Each cell contains a nucleus with 46 pairs of chromosomes.  Half of these are maternal, the other half paternal.  Chromosomes are made of DNA and a gene is a distinct section of DNA that determines particular characteristics such as hair color, height and eye color.  Some genes increase the likelihood of developing diseases like cancer, hemophilia and Alzheimer’s.

The human genome is the complete set of genetic information for humans.  Mapping the human genome remains the “holy grail” of genetics.  Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is a tiny worm.  It is also the first multicellular organism whose entire genome has been mapped. 

Considering it takes only three days to mature from birth to adulthood and the entire lifecycle is only two weeks, C. elegans provides an excellent opportunity for scientific study.  It can be studied under a variety of conditions and cellular damage assessed.  More importantly, these studies can provide a key to how an organism can adapt.

“When dealing with stress, human metabolism must adjust and this results in fatigue and diminished concentration.  Experiments have shown that C. elegans can be acclimated to heat and stress,” states Dr. Elaine Lee, assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut and a leading genetics researcher.

Stress includes conditions such as heat, dehydration, illness, infection, inadequate sleep and poor diet.  These can all result in cell damage.  The cumulative effect not only results in poor athletic performance but also leaves athletes vulnerable to more severe injury.

Genomics can lead to information on how organisms adapt to stress.  The correct balance of aerobic and resistive exercise, along with proper diet, can lead to resistance to illness as well as improved athletic performance.

Interestingly, the key to these breakthroughs may depend on genetic studies performed on a worm that is just one millimeter in size.

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