Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=215019
Story Retrieval Date: 5/24/2013 1:01:17 PM CST
Jim Harbaugh played quarterback for the Chicago Bears and now coaches the San Francisco 49ers. His brother, John, coaches the Baltimore Ravens. Their father, Jack, played professional football for the old New York Titans and coached college football.
Commentators like to say that football is in the Harbaugh family’s blood. According to geneticists, there may be something to it.
“Something like athleticism is complex,” said Rebecca Daugherty, assistant director of science and society at Northwestern University. “There are multiple different factors involved, but genetics does play a part.”
Daugherty said traits are passed down to children through their parents, with each contributing half of the genetic material. From there it’s a battle between dominant and recessive traits to determine a child’s characteristics.
“Having parents who are athletic does increase likelihood that the child will be athletic,” Daugherty said.
Some researchers assert that the presence of actinin-3, a gene linked to running ability that has been found in elite athletes, determines athleticism. But Michael Kennedy, a research assistant professor at the Northwestern University Center for Genetic Medicine, is quick to discourage this theory.
“The likelihood of athleticism increases, but it is not the job of one gene,” he said.