A Mutation in the Myostatin Gene
An individual's genetic profile can play a role in defining their natural skills and talents. The canine species presents an excellent system in which to find such associative genes. The purebred dog has a long history of selective breeding, which has produced specific breeds of extraordinary strength, intelligence, and speed. We have discovered a mutation in the canine myostatin gene, a negative regulator of muscle mass, which affects muscle composition, and hence racing speed, in whippets. Dogs that possess a single copy of this mutation are more muscled than normal and are among the fastest dogs in competitive racing events. However, dogs with two copies of the same mutation are grossly overmuscled, superficially resembling double-muscled cattle known to possess similar mutations. This result is the first to quantitatively link a mutation in the myostatin gene to athletic performance. Further, it emphasizes what is sure to be a growing area of research for performance-enhancing polymorphisms in competitive athletics. Future implications include screening for myostatin mutations among elite athletes. However, as little is known about the health issues and potential risks associated with being a myostatin mutation carrier, research in this arena should proceed with extreme caution.