Martin Mesomorph turned on his holoviewer and was immediately face-to-face with President Arnold Schwarzenegger, or at least a lifelike holographic image of the president and erstwhile multi-Mr. Olympia winner. Schwarzenegger was promising the people that he would terminate the foreign interests who had used their hefty oil-based cash flow to buy most of the real estate in the United States. The former oil barons had to do something, since their energy stranglehold on the world had ended with the advent of hydrogen-powered vehicles. Martin himself owned a hydrogen-powered Hummer.
While watching the news broadcast of President Schwarzenegger’s speech, Martin looked at a reflection of himself in a mirror across the room. He marveled at his own physique, with his 23-inch arms and 22-inch, well-defined calves. At a height of 6’, Martin carried 325 pounds of solid muscle, with a bodyfat level of a mere 5 percent. Martin was in the midst of training for the International Galaxy bodybuilding show, the premier professional bodybuilding contest. The Galaxy contest had superseded the old Mr. Olympia event that Arnold had won so long ago.
Just a few years earlier Martin had been an average competitor, hardly good enough to compete in a national contest, much less an international professional event. Even though he indulged in the gamut of available anabolic drugs, it seemed he didn’t have the genes to compete with the big boys at the pro level.
Then Martin discovered gene doping. The first thing he used was an injected form of the gene for insulinlike growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Although the therapy had been developed solely for use in treating muscle-wasting diseases, such as muscular dystrophy, athletes had jumped at the chance to use gene therapy for athletic enhancement. In fact, the last Olympic games said to be untainted by gene doping was way back in 2004, at the Summer Games in Athens. A short time later gene doping made its way into sports.
Martin responded spectacularly to the IGF-1 gene therapy. His bodyweight rose from 240 pounds to more than 300, and the gain was all muscle. He soon added other gene therapies. One was a highly active cleavage product of IGF-1 called mechano-growth factor. Although he wasn’t blessed with great calf development, when Martin injected the MGF gene into his calves, they grew to massive proportions overnight.
Dieting used to be difficult for Martin. Those low-carb plans made him dream about ice cream and pizza orgies. The days of hunger, however, ended with the advent of the new fat-burning drugs. One worked by inhibiting the gene for an enzyme called acetyl coenzyme-A carboxylase, which synthesized another chemical called malonyl-coenzyme A. Now Martin burned fat 24 hours a day. He was burning fat as he listened to Arnold once again thank everyone for the grass-roots campaign that had led to the constitutional amendment permitting him to run for president.
Martin’s reverie was broken by the sound of his phone ringing. His doctor was calling. “Martin, your tests came back, and I have some bad news for you.”
While the above scenario may seem farfetched, most scientists who monitor the athletic-drug world say that gene doping is just around the corner. Drug use in sports has long been a cat-and-mouse game, with many athletes seeking performance-boosting substances that can’t be detected and sports authorities trying to keep pace by developing new tests to find them. The great concerns about gene doping are that there isn’t any known way to detect it and that detection tests won’t be available for the foreseeable future—if ever.
Gene doping involves the insertion of artificial genes into muscle cells.1 An inserted gene then produces RNA, which dictates the synthesis of specific proteins by the cell. At present the most familiar technique for manipulating genes involves a protein, myostatin. Discovered in 1997, myostatin inhibits muscle growth. Animals born without genes that code for it usually show unprecedented muscular size, with a concomitant lack of bodyfat. Scientists then tested how myostatin works—in animals—by breeding special “knockout-gene” rats, in which the genes that code for myostatin were knocked out. As expected, the rats showed muscles about two to three times the size of normal rats.