An Australian company is offering a genetic test it claims can identify children who have the potential to excel at either sprinting and 'power' sports or endurance events, the Times reports. The test, available online, is based on research published last year linking variations in the ACTN3 gene to differences in sporting ability. Biotech firm Genetic Technologies is now offering an ACTN3 genetic test online, at a cost of $110 (£43). According to Deon Venter, one of company directors, the test doesn't say whether people will be 'winners or losers', but can 'head people into the choosing the best event and in some cases the optimal sport'.
Researchers based at the Institute of Neuromuscular Research in Sydney previously reported that whether you are good at sprinting or are better at long-distance running is partly down to which version of the ACTN3 gene you inherit. They found that world class sprinters are more likely to have at least one copy of the 'R' version of the gene, which makes alpha-actinin-3 - a protein that enables muscles to contract more quickly and powerfully. In contrast, top endurance athletes are more likely to possess just the 'X' version of the gene, which does not make any alpha-actinin-3 protein.
The team studied DNA samples taken from over 300 athletes, 50 of whom had represented Australia at international level. They found that 95 per cent of top sprinters had inherited at least one copy of the R version of the gene, while 50 per cent had inherited two copies. But only 76 per cent of elite endurance athletes inherited an R variant, with 31 per cent inheriting two copies. And out of 400 control samples taken from the general population, 82 per cent had one R variant and 30 per cent had two copies.
When the scientists looked at the distribution of the X version of the gene, they found that just 5 per cent of sprinters had two copies, compared to 18 per cent of the controls and 24 per cent of the endurance runners. At the time, team leader Kathryn North said that she thought that the absence of any alpha-actinin-3 protein means that a person's muscles are more 'slow' in character, and better suited to endurance activities.
The new ACTN gene test could be used to identify children who show promise in a particular sport. But Venter claimed it would not put them under additional pressure. 'Long before this test was established, people have been pressurising children to perform', he told the Times. However, Scottish bioethicist Andy Miah says that using tests for sporting aptitude may dissuade children from doing sports they enjoy, 'simply because someone has decided they will never be a winner'. Although advocates of genetic testing in sport see it as an extension of current talent identification practices, Miah argues that 'this seems a little like endorsing one bad practice with another'.
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Gene test for child's sporting chance