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November 28, 2004

$100 kit tests who's sporty and who's not.

Crossposted from GeneticFuture.org. Trawled from Genetic Kit to Pick Sports Stars The West Australian.

Want to know whether you're better suited to endurance sports like marathons, or "sprint-power" sports like Judo or short-distance swimming? You could spend some time swimming and running and see which one feels more natural...

... or, you could just send $110AU to the Genetic Technologies Corporation in Melbourne Australia. Why sweat and expend all that unnecessary effort to figure out which athletic events are your forté? Instead, just swab your cheek, sign a check, lick a stamp, and spend 2-3 weeks on the couch while you wait for your genetic screening results.

The science behind this test doesn't seem totally unreasonable. The company tested 300 "elite athletes" for the R577X variant of ACTN3 gene. This genetic variant determines whether or not the alpha-actinin-3 protein will be present in fast-twitch muscle fibers. It makes sense that this study found a correlation between the absence/presence of this gene and sprinting versus endurance sports.

So what's the problem here? Genetic Technologies Corporation isn't engaging in any serious breach of ethics here. It's not like they're offering you a home kit to modify your sperm so you can pick whether your future child will be a Bruce Lee or Abebe Bikila. But what, exactly, are they offering you that can't be determined without this miracle of modern technology? A fundamental part of living life is figuring out your aptitudes. Being guided by statistics towards one sport or another doesn't save you time -- it just robs you of the opportunity to beat the statistics and be a marathon runner who has an abundance of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

What I would really like to see is a genetic test that screens for succeptibility to fall for science-based scams that encourage you spend $110AU for no good reason. Now that would be interesting!

Posted by canton at 05:25 PM