Like I said, people have the myostatin gene too. In fact, a few years back, a human equivalent of a bully whippet was born in Germany.
This boy has two copies of a mutant version of the myostatin gene. He has bulging muscles and when he was four years old, he could lift 7 pounds with his arms extended.
That is one strong kid. But how common are changes like these in the myostatin gene? And are people with just one copy stronger than average?
First off, the particular mutation the German boy has is thought to be very rare. Each of his parents has a single copy as do some of his brothers and sisters.
The relatives we know about who have a single copy of the mutant gene are stronger than average. Not as strong as the brother with two copies but still really strong. So this is like the whippet.
But there aren't any other known cases like this. Which means that this change is relatively new. Or there hasn't been much of an advantage to having it in our past.
There are other changes in the myostatin gene that have been selected for though. A comparison of Africans versus Europeans found a couple of mutations in the myostatin gene in around 30% of the Africans. And only around 2% of the Europeans.
A closer look showed that these mutations were selected for in the African population. This means that most likely the change has some sort of advantage.
But it isn't strength. The change doesn't seem to affect muscle mass or athletic ability. Scientists are trying to figure out what if any advantage there is to the mutation.
Scientists have also started to compare the myostatin gene of athletes and non-athletes to see if there are differences specific to one group or the other. So far, no luck.
They're now starting to look at other genes that are similar to myostatin (or that affect myostatin) to see if they can explain differences between people's athletic abilities. We'll have to wait and see what they find.
In any event, studying the myostatin gene isn't just important for finding or making better athletes. Scientists may be able to come up with new ways to treat muscle wasting diseases if they can learn how to tweak this gene. Of course, this may result in stronger athletes as well