We have not come close to the limits of sporting achievements.


For many years I lived in the city of Eugene, pc. Oregon, known as the center of athletics USA. Every summer, first-tier competitions such as the United States Athletics Championship or the Olympic qualifying competition gathered world-class athletes at the stadium of the University of Oregon. Sometimes it was great to unexpectedly encounter the greatest athletes in local cafes or ice cream shops, or even burden or run along the track with them. One morning, I was shocked at how, like a standing one, I was overtaken by a woman who was training in 400 m races. The speed of her training races was such that I could only run a sprint for much smaller distances.

The fact is that she was an exception to the rules, and I was not. Athletic achievements are subject to the normal distribution curve, like many other values ​​in nature. This means that the number of people capable of exceptional achievements decreases exponentially with an increase in the level of achievements. A student of the district team can run a shotgun in 11 seconds, a state champion runs her a little faster than 11 seconds, and only a few of a hundred different state champions can get close to 10 seconds.

Karl Lewis runs the 4x100 relay at the Olympics in 1984

If you move further along this curve, you can reach the most original originals - people breaking records and pushing the boundaries of the possible. When Karl Lewis dominated the sprint in the 1980s, rarely anyone could run a hundred meters faster than 10 seconds, and any result close to the top ten guaranteed first places even at the Olympics. Lewis was a height of 188 cm, which is considered quite high for a sprinter. Higher height was considered a disadvantage for sprinters and was associated with slower rhythm and speed.

Therefore, no one predicted the appearance of such a person as Usain Bolt. His height is 195 cm, he ran a hundred meters almost half a second faster than the best athletes of the previous generation, and seemed to belong to a completely different kind. His step could reach 280 cm, and, as they wrote about him in a study from 2013 in the European Physics Journal, he showed results “interesting from the point of view of physics, since he could reach such accelerations and speeds that until now were not subject to other ".

Bolt was not just the fastest in the world. He was even faster than world-class runners from previous generations who used chemicals to improve results. The Canadian runner, a native of Jamaica, Ben Johnson, set a record of 9.79 seconds at the 1988 Olympics, overtaking Lewis, and also boasted that he would run faster if he did not raise his hand as a sign of victory before the finish. Later it turned out that he used steroids.

But even the combination of the best runner and anabolic steroids could not compete with the genetic leader. Bolt showed a time of 9.58 seconds in the World Championships in Athletics in 2009, setting a world record and surpassing his own record by as much as a tenth of a second.

A similar story can be found in the history of the NBA. Shaquille O'Neal was the first person to be over 210 cm tall in the league, who managed to show a person's energy and dexterity of much smaller height. He was neither a pole, nor a closet, and would have looked like an athlete weighing 90 kg if his scale had been reduced to 182 cm. When Shakila got a ball in his hands, not a single person (and sometimes two) could prevent make him a dunk. After the Lakers won three championships in a row, the NBA had to change the rules a lot and allow zone defense to reduce Shakil's dominance. He became an example of genetic exclusion, the results of which no one else could achieve in a league long criticized for being too soft a policy on doping; for example, they added a blood test for the presence of growth hormone only last year. Whatever doping was used there, it was not enough to reach the level of Shakila.

The potential improvement in doping results is modest. For example, Mike Iseratel, a professor of sports physiology at Temple University, estimated that when lifting weights, doping increases the results by only 5-10%. Compare this with the world progress in the bench press: 164 kg in 1898, 165 kg in 1916, 227 kg in 1953, 272 kg in 1967, 303 kg in 1984 and 331 kg in 2015. Dope can be used to win in any competition, but it is not comparable with the long-term trend of improvement in results, depending mainly on genetically exceptional people. With the increase in the number of people lifting weights, on the tail of the distribution curve, new and exceptional personalities began to appear, pushing world records further and further.

Similarly, Lance Armstrong used chemicals in 1999 at the Tour de France race to beat Alex Zulla, who took second place, for 7 minutes and 37 seconds, which is about 0.1% of the total race time. This is nothing compared to the gradual natural increase in speeds that occurred in this race over the past 50 years. Eddie Merckx won the race in 1971, when its duration was almost equal to the race of 1999 with a time 5% worse than Zulla. Of course, improvement is also due to the improvement of training methods and equipment. But for the most part - this is the ability of the sport to find rivals with even more exceptional natural abilities, moving further and further along the tail of opportunities.

And we just started to understand what is subject to genetically exclusive people. The normal distribution of sports opportunities signals the presence of a large number of non-critical, folding effects that are independent of each other. All of them are tied to variations of genes, or alleles, and experience small positive or negative adjustments from such properties as growth, muscle percentage, and coordination. It is already clear that tall growth stems from an unusually large number of folding gene variations, and probably from very rare mutations that strongly affect it.

Genetic researcher George Church keeps a list of such single mutations. Among them is the LRP5 variant, which provides exceptional bone strength, the MSTN variant, which gives very flexible muscles, and the SCN9A variant, which is associated with the strength of pain.

Church has participated in one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the last few decades: the development of an extremely efficient CRISPR gene editing system, approved for clinical trials and medical applications. If technologies based on CRISPR will be developed as expected, then there are several decades left to custom-made people. It is easiest to edit the embryo soon after conception, when it consists of a small number of cells, but this is also possible in the case of an adult organism. In the clinical trials of CRISPR, which will begin this year [article published in August 2016 - approx. trans.], will edit the existing cells of adult organisms by introducing a carrier virus. Most likely, CRISPR, or its improved version, in the near future will be recognized as a reliable and effective method.

Since the complex features of the organism depend on a large number of variations, we are aware of the existence of enormous potential, to which neither Shaquille, nor Bolt, nor anyone else, has come close to it. None of their living people and nearly all possible positive genetic variations are missing. All athletics, in fact, is a search algorithm for the selection of genetic exceptions, but it works a little less than a century and it can not be called very effective. Her approach is a passive expectation of how random recombinations will produce these variations and the hope that athletic training will help identify the best athletes.

And now we are entering an era when DNA will pick up not the case, but the human intellect, with the help of the tools created by him. With the improvement of our understanding of the complex features of the body, genetic engineers will be able to change the strength, size, explosive strength, endurance, speed, responsiveness, and even the desire for success needed for long-term athletic training. Estimates of the number of mutations that control growth and cognitive abilities, two of the most complex properties, come to a figure of the order of 10,000. If we simplify and assume that in each case, consisting of 10,000 variants, the desired mutation is present in about half of the population, then that after a random crossing, the “maximum” result is obtained, approximately equal to 2 -10000 , which is approximately equal to 1/10 100 , multiplied by itself 30 times. Of course, it’s impossible to get all 10,000 mutations at once, because of the danger of getting the effect of too large or too many muscles or too much heart. Nevertheless, there will almost certainly be viable individuals with opportunities that are superior to any of the people who lived before them.

Katie Ledeka participates in freestyle swimming at a distance of 800 meters in the qualifying rounds for the Olympics

In other words, it is highly unlikely that one of the 100 billion people who have ever lived has come very close to maximum opportunities. For a completely random search, it may be necessary to produce approximately googol of various people.

But with the help of genetic editing, we should be able to greatly speed up this search. After all, the agricultural crossing of animals such as chickens and cows, something like a controlled selection, easily led to the appearance of animals, the number of which in the wild would be one in a billion. Selective mating of corn has resulted in the fact that the oil content in the kernels has changed by 32, multiplied by the standard deviation, in just 100 generations. This achievement is comparable to the fact that the most suitable person was found for a particular sport. But direct gene editing can give us the result even faster, and to produce bolts faster than Bolt and jacking better than Shaquille.

Community acceptance of gene editing technology will accelerate this search. Separate decisions of parents are likely to increase the frequency of mutations in the population that improve athletic ability. This will gradually increase the average over the population and move the tail of the distribution graph. An increase in the average per standard deviation (for example, 8 cm of a man’s height or 15 points in IQ) will make a person with characteristics like one in a thousand (for example, a height of 2 m in the case of the US population) 10 times more likely.

Freeman Dyson suggested that someday people would begin to use genetic technologies to adapt themselves to the goal of space exploration — they would become more resistant to radiation, vacuum and zero gravity, and even probably learn to extract energy from sunlight directly. Adding genes from completely different species, for example, plants that feed on photosynthesis, gives the concept of GMOs a completely different meaning: speciation seems quite possible.

Sports capabilities of a person can go the same way. The nature of athletes and the types of sports in which they compete will change with the advent of new genetic technologies. Will ordinary people lose interest in them? History says that they will not lose: we love to be surprised at outstanding, unimaginable possibilities. LeBron, Kobe, Shaquille and Bolt stimulated interest in their sport. The most popular sport of the year 2100 can be fights in cages between 240 cm giants, capable of kicking their heads with ballet grace and complex jiu-jitsu movements. Or just a very, very fast sprint, without any doping.

Stephen Hsu is a vice president of research and a professor of theoretical physics at Michigan State University. Scientific consultant of BGI (Beijing Genome Institute) and the founder of his Laboratory of Cognitive Genomics.

Source: https://habr.com/ru/post/406689/

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