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First step of a great athlete


Theodore Garland, photo courtesy UCR

How much of being a great athlete is in the genes?

An aspiring football player who just can’t pack on the pounds will never make an offensive lineman. All the determination and training in the world won’t give him the edge he needs. It’s a Catch-22 that has created a lot of riffs on a quote from a Swedish exercise physiologist, Per-Olof Åstrand: "The most important thing an aspiring athlete can do is to choose the right parents."

Athletic mice
Studying genetic changes across generations is a tough thing to study in humans, though, so a UCR biologist, Theodore Garland, has been studying generations of mice and other animals.

“We have selectively bred those mice that run many revolutions, entirely voluntarily, on wheels. This has occurred for many generations,” Garland said.

Not only have Garland and associated researchers found changes in motivation, the selected mice have “high endurance capacity, high maximal oxygen consumption, large hearts, more symmetrical hindlimb bone lengths” and other adaptations, he said. Garland, co-editor of the book “Experimental Evolution”, will discuss the evolution of movement activities in a lecture Thursday at UC Riverside.

Start with the genes
It’s easy enough to see that great athletes were born with key gifts, but this ends up being a matter of expert observation.

An example comes from an article by Stefan Lovgren that is the source of the quote above. The title of the story that ran Oct. 24, 2009, in National Geographic News says it all: “Olympic Gold Begins With Good Genes, Experts Say”.

More info: Garland’s lecture, “Born to Run: Evolution of Hyperactivity in Mice”, is free and open to the public at the University Theatre on the UCR campus. Doors open at 6 p.m for the 7 p.m. talk Thursday, Oct. 29.