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'Marathon mouse' doubles stamina
By Richard Black
BBC science correspondent
Scientists in the United States have genetically engineered mice which can run twice as far as normal before becoming exhausted.
The researchers say their finding could lead to drugs or gene treatments to improve the stamina of human athletes.
Scientists add an additional active copy of a normal mouse gene.
Humans have the same gene, called PPAR-delta, and two major pharmaceutical companies are already developing drugs which boost its activity.
Somewhat inevitably in Olympic season, it been dubbed "the marathon mouse".
Its creator Ronald Hughes, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in California, says these drugs could one day be used by endurance athletes, although drugs to boost the activity of PPAR-delta are being developed for quite a different use.
"The particular use would be for people who are overweight or who have problems in exercising," says Dr Hughes.
"Almost by definition, athletes and elite runners would have an interest in this because it might make their exercise as well more efficient. So there is a potential that athletes might want to abuse this compound, like other compounds."
In the "marathon mouse", the PPAR-delta gene works by changing the make-up of muscle.
This mouse has more slow-twitch fibres which marathon runners need and which burn fat.
Endurance athletes spend hour after hour training in order to build up their slow-twitch fibres.
Now here potentially is a tablet which can do the same thing.
It is also possible that athletes could in the future be given a gene treatment based on the same concept.
Other researchers have already made super-strong mice by manipulating other genes and some experts believe the era of the gene-enhanced athlete is coming up fast.
The work has been reported in the online journal "The Public Library of Science Biology".