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Nature vs. Nurture: A groundbreaking research into genetically influenced metabolites in elite competitors | Qatar University

Nature vs. Nurture: A groundbreaking research into genetically influenced metabolites in elite competitors

2020-02-23
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The Problem

What does it take to be the Ronaldo, the Beckham or the Serena Williams of the world? In the competitive world of sporting, extensive research has been conducted on where athletic ability is derived from — and the debate is heated.

Finally, uncovering the secret to becoming an elite athlete, would be a popular –and valuable– discovery. Assistant Professor at Qatar University’s Biomedical Research Center (BRC), Dr. Mohammed Elrayess says in the field of genetic studies, “evidence remains elusive because of the complex phenotype and the small effect size of genetic factors.”

Another issue, and possibly the largest issue when it comes to elite athletes, is the relatively small sample size, which makes conducting research on the topic difficult.

The solution

Sponsored by Qatar National Research Fund, and in collaboration with Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar, Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) and University College London, Dr. Elrayess led an investigative study into genetically influenced metabolites in elite athletes.

To do so, Dr. Elrayess’s team had to look internationally. In order to achieve a sufficient sample size, the BRC worked with anti-doping laboratories in Rome and Qatar to collect data. These laboratories have been collecting samples for years, for conducting doping tests, but Dr. Elrayess inventively used those samples to perform genetic studies. He and his team were the first to take on this approach of using the data.

The team uncovered that there is a genetic predisposition for elite athlete performance. In more simple terms, it means humans with this genetic variant have an advantage that they are born with.

During the study, they also found a genetic variant in a gene that codes for the enzyme fundamental to steroid function in elite athletes, an important compound in relation to muscle mass and metabolism. These are all important findings. “For the first time, there is concrete evidence that there is a genetic predisposition to an enzyme that is giving an advantage to elite, high-endurance athletes,” says Dr. Elrayess.

Groundbreaking research such as this one could greatly impact the competitive world of sporting. Genetic screening for metabolites might, for example, help identify new talent and could further assist in adapting training regimes according to each player’s genetic profile.

In competitions, every fraction of a second counts. “It is a cruel world,” says Dr. Elrayess. “This research could be the kind of thing that will make all the difference for elite athletes.”

Learn more
https://qspace.qu.edu.qa/handle/10576/12318

Dr. Mohammed ElrayessDr. Mohammed Elrayess
Assistant Professor at Qatar University’s
Biomedical Research Center