Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

David Ewing Duncan

A View from David Ewing Duncan

Using Spit to Search for a Superathlete Gene

Taiwanese scientists in search of DNA that may account for sports stars’ prowess are building a genetic library of these athletes’ saliva.

  • March 26, 2007

For years, geneticists have been poking around in the human genome looking for genes that might contribute to superathletes like road-racing cyclist Lance Armstrong. One geneticist recently told me that Armstrong and other phenomenal athletes are “mutants”–meaning their DNA almost certainly contains supergenes that allow them to, for example, sprint up the Pyrenees at full tilt during the Tour de France or, in the case of baseball players, hit balls traveling at 100 miles per hour.

Scientists at the Taipei Physical Education College have announced that they are developing a gene bank containing DNA from superperforming athletes from Taiwan. Led by researcher Hsu Tai-ke, the team has been collecting gene-laden saliva from top performers, such as last year’s 19-game-winning pitcher Wang Chein-Ming, of the New York Yankees, and Olympic tae-kwon-do medalists Chu Mu-yen and Huang Chih-hsiung.

In each case, the researchers found “polymorphisms,” special genes or stretches of DNA present in some people and not in others, that numerous studies have associated with athletes’ cardio endurance.

Tai-ke suggests that asking big-time athletes for spit rather than blood will increase the number of test subjects and confirm whether or not these genes help superathletes perform.

The Taiwanese scientist also raised the notion that further understanding these genes might lead to testing kids who seem to be developing into great pitchers or karate stars–a Gattaca sort of idea that makes the mind wonder how this information would be used, or if athletes might add their genes to the list of products they endorse.

Apparently, there is already a market for superbeautiful women and supersmart men and women to contribute (in exchange for payment) their eggs and sperm to make beautiful geniuses. What will it cost to buy an actual gene to help you pitch a 19-and-6 season with a 3.63 ERA?

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.