Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Future of Sport: Instant Muscles

Okay, something non-political for a break.

Former Oakland Athletics Jose Canseco is in the news again for rumors that his home run hitting prowess was aided by anabolic steroids. Steroids are basically bull testosterone, which does increase the rate at which new muscle is built and speeds up recovery from injury. But steroids are reported to have nasty side-effects including sterility, moodiness, acne, hair loss, liver disease.

I'm here to confidently predict that the plague of anabolic steroids in athletics will soon be over---because something much, much better will take its place. The first thing to note about building muscle is that animals have mechanisms to prevent too much muscle from forming. Why is that? Well, it's because most animals, throughout most of evolutionary history spent their lives on the edge of starvation. Since muscle burns calories, having more muscle than you need is wasteful and dangerous to your survival.

Of course, humans in countries like the US these days are more likely to worry about obesity than starving to death, and muscle is sexy and useful, so maybe we would like to rethink our reluctance to build too much of it. The key seems to be the protein myostatin that turns off muscle growth. Blocking the production of myostatin turns off the body's inhibitions to building muscle, and the muscle just grows and grows.

There have been rare mutations that cause myostatin to either not be produced, or to have its activity blocked. Such a mutation led to a ultra-muscular breed of cattle, the Belgian Blue. A variant has also been found in a super-muscular baby boy born in Germany recently.

In 2001, researchers at John's Hopkins University developed "might mice" that blocked the activity of myostatin. The intended goal of this research is to help with muscle-wasting conditions such as Muscular Dystrophy or old age. But of course, it is only a matter of time, some suggest 5 to 10 years, that muscle-building drugs become available to athletes. In contrast with steroids, these drugs promise to be undetectable by drug tests.


Blogger Kyle McCullough said...

Where do I sign up for the trials?

2:55 PM  

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