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Sports Genomics

Genomics-based probiotic nutritional supplements that could enhance performance in every-day-athletes

Elite athletes possess extraordinary physical abilities enabling them to reach peak performances and recover quickly. The question is, can we extract information from their biology and use it to boost the performance level and speed up recovery of every-day-athletes?

Wyss Institute researchers are isolating the microbiomes of performing elite athletes to determine their exact bacterial compositions. Bacterial species that peak during performance and recovery can be grown outside of the body in petri dishes to be tested for specific performance-enhancing contributions. Credit: Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock

Research in different laboratories over the past years has discovered potential connections between the composition of the gut microbiome and different physiological processes, including overall metabolism, immune and neurological functions, which in turn could affect athletic performance. In addition, beneficial bacteria found in elite athletes could enhance and reconstitute the gut microbiome in the general population towards improving health.

Based on these insights, and using high-throughput next generation sequencing technology, Wyss Institute researchers are comparing gut microbiome bacteria from athletes before, during and after peak performance and subsequent recovery phases with those of non- and every-day-athletes. Such comparable longitudinal analysis is revealing transient changes in the abundance of specific bacterial species or even of genetic variants of individual species that correlate with and possibly help drive peak performances in a wide range of sports where extraordinary endurance, speed or strength are involved.

The microbiome is dynamic in nature and we are learning how it is unique and changes in performing elite athletes. We are leveraging this metagenomics information to develop nutritional supplements towards enhancing the performance and health of others.

Jonathan Scheiman, Postdoctoral Fellow

The Wyss team has identified distinct athlete bacterial compositions with potential benefits for performance and recovery. It has been recruiting large numbers of elite athletes into its sports genomics program to pinpoint generalizable changes in the microbiome that consistently occur in peak endurance, speed and strength performances. These results will be translated into probiotic formulations that, after appropriate safety testing, may help every-day-athletes reach higher performance levels and more efficient recovery.

In this episode of Disruptive, Wyss Core Faculty member George Church and Wyss Postdoctoral Fellow Jonathan Scheiman discuss collecting and sequencing gut bacteria of elite athletes to produce customized probiotics – and the potential that these probiotics could give recipients access to some of the biological advantages that make those athletes elite.

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