Antioch Upper Grade School

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District 34
  • William Struss 

    8th Grade Titans Science 
    Antioch Upper Grade School 
    (847) 838 - 8157 

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  • Super Strong Kids May Hold Genetic Secrets

    Liam Hoekstra, 3, has myostatin deficiency, which increases his muscle mass and reduces his body fat. He is pictured holding five pound weights with his mother, Dana Hoekstra, inside their Roosevelt Park home, in this December 2008 file photo.

    Every new child has a few surprises, but imagine bringing home an adopted baby to find he was born with a super strength beyond the biological limits of most humans.

    At 5 months old, Liam Hoekstra of Grand Rapids, Mich., started doing an expert gymnast move called the iron cross. By 8 months old, Liam could do a pull-up and by 9 months, he could climb up and down stairs.

    "I would hold him up by his hands and he would lift himself into an iron cross. That's when we were like, 'whoa, this is weird,'" Liam's mother, Dana Hoekstra told The Associated Press.

    Soon, the family thought to take him to specialists, who diagnosed Liam with a rare condition loosely called myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy, according to reporting by the AP.

    The condition is so rare, only a few similar cases have been documented in medical literature. Hoekstra declined to do more interviews with, saying she hoped to get her son out of the limelight for a while.

    Indeed, the handful of cases like Hoekstra's have caught the eye of scientists, doctors, and body builders, as a way to manipulate our natural strength.


    Finding a Key to Building Muscle

    Many substances in the body can control muscle growth, but in 1997, Johns Hopkins University researchers discovered a gene and a protein called myostatin, first in mice, then in a breed of muscular cattle called the Belgian Blue.

    "It's one of the reasons why I don't look like Arnold Schwarzenegger," said Dominic Wells, a professor who studies myostatin at Imperial College London.

    Wells explained that virtually every animal on Earth has a gene that produces a muscle growth-inhibiting protein called myostatin. High levels of myostatin make it hard for the body to build muscle, and low levels of myostatin allow muscle to grow.

    After the mice and cattle discovery, scientists found natural mutations in some dogs and sheep, but never in a human until 2004.

    "In 2004 we reported on this German child, and to my knowledge, that is the only clear-cut documented case of a mutation in a human," said Dr. Se-Jin Lee, professor of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.


    German Boy First Case of Super Strength

    The German boy was born with a defective myostatin gene and showed super strength that surpassed Liam's, who had a functional gene but an unspecified difficulty regulating myostatin.

    Lee said he has heard of several attempts to use antibodies or other means to block the myostatin gene for the purpose of treating muscular dystrophy.

    But of the research he's followed -- research at the Amgen biotech company in California, Johns Hopkins University and the Acceleron company in Massachusetts -- Lee said he has yet to hear of a success.

    "It hasn't been documented that if you give a myostatin blocker that you could get muscle to grow," he said.

  • No lactic acid build-up in ultrarunner Dean Karnazes’ muscles

    21 May 2016

    rare lactate threshold for ultramarathon runner

    He ran 50 marathons in 50 days across 50 states but never experienced cramping because he does not build up lactic acid.
    Dean Karnazes, a 53 year old ultrarunner from California has completed some of the toughest endurance events on the planet, from the legendary Marathon des Sables to completing a marathon to the South Pole in temperatures of -25C. Amazingly, he has never experienced any form of cramping or muscle burn.

    Karnazes he first realized he was different from other runners while training for the next stunt, running 50 marathons across 50 states in 50 days. Along with other runners, he was sent for an aerobic capacity test as well as a lactate threshold test. 

    "They said the test would take 15 minutes, tops. Finally, after an hour, they stopped the test. They said they'd never seen anything like this before," he revealed. 
    Under normal circumstances, the body uses oxygen to break down glucose to produce energy. During intense exercise however, there is insufficient oxygen available to produce the required amount of energy, which results in the production of lactate, or lactic acid. 

    Lactate can be further converted to energy without oxygen, but prolonged exercise causes it to build up faster than it can get burned off. The point when lactic acid starts to build up is called the "lactate threshold."

    The lactic acid build-up is what causes the burning feeling in muscles, leading to aches, cramps and weakness. It is the body’s way of telling you to slow down or stop – but Karnazes never receives this signal. “No matter how hard I push, my muscles never seize up. That's kind of a nice thing if I plan to run a long way," he says. 

    As Laurent Messonnier from the University of Savoie explains, lactate is cleared via a series of chemical reactions driven by the mitochondria in muscle cells. And such reactions transform lactate back to glucose again and they are enhanced by specific enzymes. 

    Years of training will improve both the enzymes and mitochondria and result in improved clearance. However, there is a limit to how much lactate threshold can be improved by training alone. Those who inherit these enzymes and a larger mass of mitochondria genetically have far higher personal limits.

    While genetics can give the propensity for a natural advantage, genes are still expressed differently depending on your environment and your lifestyle. Karnazes believes that his lactate clearance abilities might be caused or enhanced by his low body fat, low sweat rate, a high alkaline diet and low exposure to environmental toxins. 

    An interesting experiment could be to repeat the lactate threshold test with Karnazes' brother, who plays competitive volleyball but no extensive amount of running. 

    "I would be curious if he exhibits some of those same abilities to clear lactic acid from his system." Karnazes says. 

    This might shed some light on the genetic and environmental influences on his own lactate clearance abilities.