UCL to stage international conference on genes in sport

November 23, 2001

LONDON 22 NOV. 2001 - Scientists will look into the present and future role that genetics may play in sport at a one day international conference to be held at University College London next week.

The conference, organised jointly by the UK Institute of Sports Medicine and the School of Human Health Performance at UCL, aims to examine recent advances in molecular genetics and assess their influence on sports physiology and medicine both now and in the future.

With recent breakthroughs in human genomics the search is on for the key genes that determine sports performance. Their identification will, in turn, specify the proteins that may form the basis for elite sporting talent.

But advances of our knowledge in this field will also raise complex ethical and organisational challenges to the sports administrators and organisations. The conference will confront these issues head on with a gathering of speakers working at the forefront of their research.

Stories from next weeks conference will include;

Drug cheats soon impossible to detect.

Gene therapy, originally developed to treat the sick with diseases such as cystic fibrosis, may soon be abused by professional athletes to enhance their performance. Gene doping is already being tested and scientists say it may now be impossible to detect.

When viruses infect cells they inject their DNA into our bodies. Scientists can now alter this virus to contain a human gene thereby introducing additional genetic material into cells. In animal studies extra copies of the activated gene for erythropoietin (EPO) have been genetically engineered. The studies have revealed that, for instance, the number of red blood cells can be doubled by a single injection and the effect can last for up to six months.

Gene doping is impossible to detect - the protein produced is identical to normal proteins. Detection through muscle biopsy is possible but would raise major ethical questions.

Double D required for sprinters - but the I's have it for long distance.

Sprinters may have different variants of genes compared to long distance runners, specialising the athletes for their particular event, according to new research from scientists at UCL.

Levels of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) vary among individuals depending on a variation in the ACE gene. The I version is longer and causes lower ACE levels than the deleted D version. Levels of ACE directly affect the levels of angiotensin - a cellular growth factor which regulates muscle size.

The British Olympic Association tested the genes of 495 athletes as potential Olympic competitors. They found that sprinters and short distance swimmers had an excess of the D allele (i.e. high ACE levels) whereas long distance runners and endurance athletes had higher frequencies of the I allele (lower ACE levels).

Scientists speculate that the D allele - which produces high levels of angiotensin - may cause increased muscle mass which sprinters need for their rapid anaerobic bursts, whereas endurance runners tend to have less muscle mass.

Twins reveal genetics of sporting heroes.

New data from research conducted among adult twins reveals that only higher levels of sporting success can be attributed to their genes.

Twin studies provide the ideal opportunity for studying the role of genes in sporting success - as twins share all their genetic material any differences between them must be environmentally induced. In animals such as racehorses, the importance of breeding has been well demonstrated and anecdotal evidence in humans through famous sporting siblings is abundant. The new data though will reveal which combinations of genes are important for that ultimate sporting success.

Genes for Exercise - Keeping it in the family.

Exploring the underlying genetic architecture of physical performance and health related fitness is the aim of a family study which sought to find out why individuals differ in their response to exercise.

Data from family studies indicates that 30-60% of individual human performance is inherited. The studies also provide clues as to the identity of the genes that are contributing to performance - using genome-wide linkage analysis it is possible to uncover chromosomal regions that harbour these genes.

UCL conference organiser, Dr Bruce Lynn, said today;

'The conference will be of wide interest to medical practitioners as well as sports scientists, physios and other health professionals. It promises to be the most comprehensive conference on the science and ethics of sports and genetics convened this year.'

Further information: Patrick Edwards, UCL Media Relations, 020 7 679 1621, media@ucl.ac.uk

Notes to Editors.

(I) Genes in Sport, 30 November 2001, Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1. Press wishing to attend must contact UCL Media Relations on the number above. Access to the media by strict accreditation.

(ii) The latest conference programme is available at http://www.profbriefings.co.uk/events/genes.htm

(iii) For listings sections please include the following; An International One Day Conference, Genes in Sport organised by University College London (UCL) and the Institute for Sports Medicine, 30 November 2001 at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street. To book contact Professional Briefings, 020 7 233 8322 (T), 020 7233 7779, e mail profbriefings@msn. Visit web site at


(iv) Interviews available. Contact UCL Media Relations.

University College London

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