gene tests to spot sports talent

Posted on April 26, 2008


Would you prefer to watch a sports game full of uber-atheletes, a dream team filled with the best of the best, such as baseball games played by teams made up totally of Alex Rodriguez-caliber players or basketball games where everyone has Lebron James-like abilities?

To sports fans, it might sound like fun, but too good to be true.

Apparently not.

Scientists who are constantly researching how to improve our lives and health have also come up with the science of using genetic screening to spot tomorrow’s sports stars and save talent scouts, and fans, the heartbreak of signing million dollar contracts with a new hopeful that does not live up to his or her potential.

Experimenting on mice, scientists seem to have isolated methods to identity ingredients that superior athletes are believed to have, such as PPARdelta, the controller of slow-twitch muscle growth; IGF-1, which regulates human growth; genes that regulate erythropoietin, a hormone that affects the production of red blood cells; and the fast-twitch muscle function gene ACTN3, crucial for world-class sprinters.

And one of the UK’s top football clubs has reportedly bought into the genetic screening tests and looks to use it to test their new crop of potential recruits, though the club has not been named.

While it sounds like an efficient way to separate the wheat from the chaff, it does not necessarily guarantee foolproof success. Too often, we hear of athletes with all the God-given advantages in the world but who never quite live up to their potential. They squander it either due to a lack of drive, too many distractions, or simply not having the mental ability to match their physical prowess and bring it to fruition.

Sports, whether in victory or failure, has inspired and moved many a human heart. But it is ultimately about the human spirit’s ability to surpass seemingly insurmountable odds that makes sports that much more rewarding, either to watch or to participate in.

We might admire the preternaturally talented, but many of us are more inspired by ostensibly ordinary athletes who had to bust their butts harder to get to the top. Hey, even Tom Brady was only picked on the sixth round of the NFL draft. His work ethic and drive are legendary, he is proof that while not as genetically blessed as some other players, his hard work managed to earn him three Super Bowls. Where would the Tom Bradys of the world be if they were eliminated even before they had a shot, due to some genetic shortcoming?

Besides, having a line-up of genetically superior beings just seems to take the fun out of things. Where would the struggle and triumph that makes for great storylines be, if it was all so easy for them?

God might have given some people more than others, but it should not be the main criteria on which we are judged. Yes, sports is one of those areas where having that little something extra could make all the difference between a gold or silver medal. But little boys and girls everywhere should be able to go on dreaming of being sports stars one day. If they have to work much harder than some others to make it, they should be allowed to. It would be unnecessarily cruel to count people out based solely on their genetic predisposition. Wise sports recruiters everywhere would surely stick to this saying — it’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it that matters.

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Posted in: genetics, science, sports