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Mr. Universe Jr.: Child's gene mutation confirms protein's role in human-muscle growth

Find the kid a sports agent. Researchers studying an unusually muscular tot have found that he has gene mutations similar to ones that produce abnormally brawny cattle and mice. Less-severe variations in the same gene may underlie the success of some athletes, the scientists speculate.

The boy's mutations disrupt both copies of the gene encoding a muscle protein called myostatin. Previous studies of the gene in animals had suggested that myostatin restrains muscle growth during development and adult life. But scientists didn't know whether the protein serves the same function in people.

The boy's powerhouse physique "says pretty definitively that myostatin plays the same role in humans that it does in mice and cattle," concludes Se-Jin Lee of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore. If so, he adds, then drugs to block myostatin might have some benefits in people with muscle-wasting diseases.

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