Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Genetics of Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, and Muhammad Ali

                                               Michael Jordan

        Do you think that your childhood and high school experience would have been different if a genetic test had told you that you were predisposed to be an elite athlete? Do you think that your parents would have pressured you or pushed you to play certain sports in hope for a college scholarship or even a chance of playing professionally? There is actually a company called Atlas Sports Genetics that will test a child’s or adolescent’s genetics to determine if they have a gene that they claim plays a role in becoming an elite athlete. Atlas Sports Genetics charges 169 dollars for the test that will tell what type of sports/athletics your child is best suited for. The gene that is being tested for is the ACTN3 gene and it’s R577X variant. If the results show 2 copies of the variant then it means that the child is predisposed to be good at endurance events, 1 copy of the variant means a predisposition for both endurance and sprint/power events, and no copies of the variants for spring/power events. I found this extremely interesting because no matter the results it says that your child has a predisposition to be an elite athlete in some type of event, whether it is a sprinting or endurance events. When in reality, we all cannot and are not obviously elite athletes. In my opinion, I think this is simply to make the customer happy. If you send back results saying that your child is not genetically cut out to be an athlete that isn’t going to make the consumer to happy. On the other hand, if you tell them that their kid is predisposed to be some elite athlete they will tell their friends and they will most likely get their child tested as well.
            Also, I believe that there are some definite moral and ethical issues with this testing. First of all, the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a child is told they are going to be an elite athlete and then it turns out that they are not, they will be crushed. In addition, this genetic testing completely takes away the environmental factor. It disregards the years and years of hard work and dedication that elite athletes put into their training. Michael Jordan didn’t just walk onto a basketball court one day and was the greatest basketball player ever because of his genetics. He practiced everyday for years and years. Furthermore, Dr. John Mulvihill, a clinical geneticist at Oklahoma University, says that genes don’t completely determine your outcome. Environment and lifestyle must be taken into consideration as well. In addition, Beth Tarini  M.D. at the University of Michigan says that people can have different proteins that make muscles contract faster; that people can have 2 copies of these proteins instead of one which would make them better at sports. However, she states that it is not an absolute prediction, it is just a small predisposition, that work ethic must also be taken into consideration. I think that genetic testing like this is extremely interesting and has some credibility, but must be taken with some skepticism because there are many other factors to take into consideration, more research is needed to completely confirm the validity of these genetic tests. 

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