Genetic testing for athletic ability raises questions and ethical concerns

A number of companies are now marketing genetic tests that they claim can identify a child’s aptitude for certain sports, but sports medicine professionals are warning against putting too much faith in the tests.

The tests screen for several genes, including the ACTN3 gene, which has been linked to enhanced performance among some elite sprinters.

According to Stephen M. Roth, who spoke about the tests at this year’s ACSM annual meeting, “It looks like the gene does contribute something, but only a very small amount at the very, very elite levels.”

Some companies also claim that their test can identify possible heart problems and vulnerability to concussions.

Critics say that we don’t know enough about the genes in question to reliably interpret the results and trusting the test could lead to a false sense of safety. “If the test comes back negative, the parent might say, ‘Put them back in,’ ” said Carl Foster, a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. “If you get your kid back into competition too quickly and he gets another concussion, the kid is dead now.”

Source: Washington Post and American College of Sports Medicine
For more information on this topic, see Genetics Primer for Exercise Science and Health.

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