Genetic testing may offer answer to age old question, “Will my kid go pro?”


1 Response to “Genetic testing may offer answer to age old question, “Will my kid go pro?””

  1. June 24, 2011 at 8:12 AM

    Technology is emerging that claims to peek into your genetic code and determine if you have the natural ability to excel in power sports like sprinting or endurance sports like long-distance running. This new technology, however, is not without controversy. Experts debate both the science behind these tests and the ethical and political ramifications of genetic testing for sports aptitude.

    The Science of Genetic Testing for Sports Ability

    The debate began following the release of a 2003 Australian research study that showed a variation of the ACTN3 gene was correlated with the production of fast or slow-twitch muscle fibers. Having more slow twitch muscle fibers have been shown to improve a person’s success in endurance activities while more fast twitch muscle fibers appear to improve a person’s ability to excel in sprint or power sports.
    In 2003, researchers found that the R variant of the ACTN3 gene was linked to the production of a protein linked to fast-twitch muscle fibers and the X variant of the gene seemed to block the production of the protein. Athletes who had two sets of the R variant, therefore, appear to be better suited to sprint and power sports while those who inherit two X variant genes seem to have better endurance and excel in sports such as marathons.

    New research, however, isn’t quite as clear as the original 2003 study. In 2007, researchers in South African found no significant correlation between 457 endurance athletes and the XX variation of the ACTN3. In 2008, scientists at the Research Institute of Physical Culture in Russia couldn’t confirm a relationship between the XX variation of the gene and endurance performance, although they did find the RR variant in successful power sports athletes.

    Critics of the science argue that the labs that perform this genetic testing focus only on one gene when many genes are related to athletic ability, and the science is too young to say that the ACTN3 gene is the most important.

    The Ethics of Genetic Testing for Sports Ability

    Even more heated than the debate over the science of genetic tests and sports ability is the debate that swirls around the ethics of such testing. As the technology grows, there is a growing concern about the use of such testing by professional sports teams, Olympic teams, college and high schools organizations who may try to screen athletes and encourage and discourage participation is certain sports. Finally, the use of such tests by parents who want to see their children excel in a specific sport is a hot topic among sports psychologists.
    Parents who push their children into a sports based upon the results of this testing are ignoring some important variables of athletic success and potentially causing a strained relationship with their kids. Experts warn that having a test result which shows that a child may excel in sprint or endurance sports may create pressure for the child to succeed. Many coaches, sports psychologists and genetic counselors are cautioning parents who use these tests to use the information carefully. Parents need to pay attention to the child’s interest in the sport and encourage him to play sports to improve his physical fitness and health, to have fun, and to learn teamwork and sportsmanship.

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