Have you ever wondered what it means to want to get “beefed up”? Well, it is more obvious than you may think, and it also is very relevant to the bodybuilding world, although not so relevant to athletics and weight loss.
The term refers to the huge muscles that certain breeds of cow develop as a result of cross breeding. The cow in question is the Belgian Blue Beef which as a result of years of selected breeding has a conidition called double muscling. Double Muscling occurs when the gene that inhibits the growth of myostatin is missing. Myostatin is a protein that controls the growth of muscle. In Pure Belgian Blue cows there are 2 copies of the gene, but in the Belgian Blue Beef the gene is missing, which means that muscle growth is literally doubled up.
So how is this relevant to bodybuilding? Well, scientists have been developing a technique to inhibit the myostatin gene to help people with muscle wasting diseases. It is thought that some people who build muscle very easily may naturally have one gene missing, and any process of drug that can inhibit the myostatin gene in humans would be sought after by many athletes and bodybuilders. Some substances have been developed to try to block myostatins, and many body builders experiment with them. However, the FDA have not approved any medicines that inhibit myostatin yet.
Myostatin deficiency is a very rare human condition, so rare that figures are not recorded on how often it occurs. For it to manifest, two people, both with 1 gene missing or mutated (about 1% of people may have one gene missing) would need to reproduce and each pass on their defective gene to their child.
There was a case in 2004, a German boy was diagnosed with a mutation in both copies of the myostatin-producing gene, making him considerably stronger than his peers. His mother was a professional sprinter and it was found that she did indeed have a mutation in one copy of the gene. His grandfather, a construction worker, was apparently very strong and would lift 330 pound curbstones by himself where others would struggle working together. There is no other information on him though other than anecdotal evidence. When the boy was examined it was found that he was not making myostatin.
Some scientists have suggested that as genetic research advances people will be able to have tests done to see if they would make better athletes. Maybe this super-boy will go on to become an athlete or bodybuilder? This would raise some interesting questions if he did, and if a drug was developed to block myostatin. If the drug was made illegal by the athletics and bodybuilding community, would it be fair for someone that naturally blocks myostatin to compete?
- The American Society of Human Genetics. Human Adaptive Evolution at Myostatin (GDF8), a Regulator of Muscle Growth
Photo of Belgian Blue by agriflanders.