Researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute have altered the genome of mice to express a human protein called PPAR-delta. This change enabled the mice to double their endurance. The genetic transformation is permanent and will be inherited by next-generation mice.
With no previous running experience, most mice can run about 900 meters before exhaustion. But the genetically altered mice can run 1800 meters (more than a mile) before running out of steam, and keep it up for two and a half hours — an hour longer than unaltered mice can run.
It turns out that GlaxoSmithKlein is testing a drug that activates the same protein in humans. They are developing the drug as an HDL booster (a preferred form of fat) and evidently were unaware of other potential benefits.
So…forget about mice. The real issues have to do with the potential and ethics of such a possibility in humans. There are the usual caveats about things not working the same in humans, as yet unknow adverse side effects, etc., etc. But an ethicist, Paul Wolpe, has already raised some head-scratching thought questions:
“The world is about to change dramatically,” Wolpe said. “It’s one thing to say there are going to be certain banned substances. It’s another thing to say people are not going to be able to manipulate their bodies in certain ways. Are we going to perform sophisticated genetic tests on people? What if you were born that way? Will you have to document the fact that its ‘natural’ rather than an induced trait? Or are we just going to throw out the whole idea that human sports achievement has to be done with some sort of notion of the natural?”