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NFL players as guinea pigs

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NFL players are sure being examined a lot these days. Now 23andMe and the Buck Institute have conducted a genetic study to see whether NFLers are different than the average bear.

NFL players are sure being examined a lot these days. First, there's a wide ranging study on concussions in former athletes. And now 23andMe and the Buck Institute have conducted a genetic study to see whether NFLers are different from the average bear.

First, the concussion issue. As anyone who has every played football can tell you---concussions are everywhere. Indeed, 60 Minutes looked at new research---much of it on NFL players and concluded (video):

The National Football League commissioned a telephone survey of 1,000 retired players that was released just two weeks ago. The study found the players under the age of 50 were 19 times more likely to have been diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer's and other memory related diseases, compared to the general public.

Here's the video:


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Meanwhile, the 23andme study examined whether NFL players were genetic outliers. According to a statement:

Researchers at the Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, the Stanford University School of Medicine and 23andMe teamed up with the Buck Institute to do the study. In a "GWAS" (Genome Wide Association Study) comparing NFL "pros" to "Joes," 23andMe initially looked for variants associated with athletic prowess using the players' raw genetic data obtained from 23andMe testing. The study did not find the tested players to be genetic outliers, suggesting that genetics may not be a good predictor of athletic success.

The researchers then investigated a specific list of genes in the players associated with athletic ability and longevity, including grip power, oxygen-carrying capacity and injury risk. For example, mutations in the gene COL1A1 (which is responsible for the manufacture of collagen, the protein that keeps ligaments strong) have been associated with a reduced risk of ACL tears in limited previous research. Knowledge about an individual's COL1A1 type could in the future allow athletes to better understand their risk of knee injury.

Bottom line: The 23andme study couldn't measure heart (the ability of some players to hustle even if they are smaller and slower than the more genetically blessed). The ACL tear gene is worth noting for future study.

Maybe these studies merely coincide with football season, but there does seem to be a lot of scientific study swirling around the NFL.

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Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure