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Thursday, 21 May, 1998, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Is winning in your genes?
Athletes running round a race track
Some us may just be born to win
An athlete's ability to excel could be down to his or her genes, according to new research by British scientists.

Researchers at the Centre for Cardiovascular Genetics at University College London have managed to isolate a gene they think is responsible for enhancing physical endurance and sporting performance.

The gene influences the production of an enzyme which increases blood pressure and it also appears to boost the intake of oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells.

Hope for heart patients

It is hoped that the gene - which has been named ACE, short for a polymorphism of the angiotensin converting enzyme - could also help to improve the treatment of stroke and heart patients.

Dr Montgomery
Dr Montgomery: the gene could help treatment of heart patients
Dr Hugh Montgomery, who led the research, said: "The benefit of this work is in saving lives. If this gene does work by making cells more efficient it might be able to stop cell death when fuel supply is reduced.

"During heart attacks and strokes, where blood supply is blocked, a means of increasing efficiency in neighbouring cells will be a crucial advance in treatment."

There are two different types of the ACE gene, named I and D. Because of the way genes are paired, humans can fall into three categories II, DD or ID.

Man on exercise machine
Athletes without the gene have to make that little extra effort
Doctors studied 78 raw army recruits, who all completed an identical 10-week physical training course. They found that recruits with the II or ID type genes showed improvements in repetitive weight-lifting 11 times greater than those with the DD genes.

Genetic samples were also taken from a group of high-altitude mountaineers who regularly climbed without breathing equipment. Scientists found that most of them had ID or II gene combinations. None of the mountaineers who could climb above 8000m without oxygen had the DD version.

Dr Montgomery, who published the results in the science journal Nature, said: "We have demonstrated that version I alleles are associated with better endurance performance than the D allele."

But he said more studies will be needed to discover if the results are the same in women and other racial groups.

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