Loughborough University
Williams & Folland J Physiol 2008.pdf (126.78 kB)

Similarity of polygenic profiles limits the potential for elite human physical performance

Download (126.78 kB)
journal contribution
posted on 2014-10-07, 14:16 authored by Alun G. Williams, Jonathan FollandJonathan Folland
Human physical capability is influenced by many environmental and genetic factors, and it is generally accepted that physical capability phenotypes are highly polygenic. However, the ways relevant polymorphisms combine to influence physical capability of individuals and populations are unknown. Initially, the literature was searched to identify associations between 23 genetic polymorphisms and human endurance phenotypes. Next, typical genotype frequencies of those polymorphisms in the general population were obtained from suitable literature. Using probability calculations, we found only a 0.0005% chance of a single individual in the world having the ‘preferable’ form of all 23 polymorphisms. As the number of DNA variants shown to be associated with human endurance phenotypes continues to increase, the probability of any single individual possessing the ‘preferable’ form of each polymorphism will become even lower. However, with population turnover, the chance of such genetically gifted individuals existing increases. To examine the polygenic endurance potential of a human population, a ‘total genotype score’ (for the 23 polymorphisms) was calculated for each individual within a hypothetical population of 1,000,000. There was considerable homogeneity in terms of genetic predisposition to high endurance potential, with 99% of people differing by no more than seven genotypes from the typical profile. Consequently, with population turnover world and Olympic records should improve even without further enhancement of environmental factors, as more ‘advantageous’ polygenic profiles occasionally, though rarely, emerge. More broadly, human potential appears limited by the similarity of polygenic profiles at both the ‘elite sport’ and ‘chronic disorder’ ends of the performance continuum.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Published in







113 - 121 (9)


WILLIAMS, A.G. and FOLLAND, A.G., 2008. Similarity of polygenic profiles limits the potential for elite human physical performance. Journal of Physiology, 586 (1), pp.113-121.


Blackwell Publishing (© 2008 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2008 The Physiological Society)


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date



This is the peer reviewed version of the article which has been published in final form at http://dx.doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2007.141887. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.




  • en