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At the Extreme

Researchers at Stanford University and elsewhere are testing the cardiovascular efficiency of hundreds of top athletes, the Mercury News reports. The Exercise at the Limit: Inherited Traits of Endurance project team is looking for individuals who have extremely efficient cardiovascular systems and then plans to sequence them to find genetic mutations linked to that ability.

Mercury News notes that the researchers aren't looking just for athletes, but for ones who compete at high levels in sports like rowing, cycling, and cross-country skiing. In particular, they are searching for people with a VO2 max — a measure of oxygen uptake — of 75 for men and 63 for women, which Mercury News says is typically in the 30s or 40s for healthy, but untrained men.

By sequencing these extreme athletes, the researchers hope to spot mutations linked to that performance that could help guide drug development efforts to treat heart disease. In all, the ELITE team hopes to sequence about 800 individuals.

"If we understand what genes make elite athletes, we could turn them on in people who are sick," cardiologist and electrophysiologist Byron Lee, who is not part of the project, tells the Mercury News.