2008 Olympics and Genetics

"We are not yet at a point where we can identify a potential future Olympic champion from genetic tests but we may not be very far away," said one of the authors of the British Association of Sport and Exercise's (BASE) position paper on "Genetic Research and Testing in Sport and Exercise Science."

However, BASE calls for more genetic research in the sport and exercise sciences because of the anticipated benefits for public health. It wants researchers to take a more active role in debating the implications of their work with the public.

"If a powerful muscle growth gene was identified, on the one hand this could help develop training programmes that increase muscle size and strength in athletes, but even more importantly the knowledge could be used to develop exercise programmes or drugs to combat muscle wasting in old age," said Dr Alun Williams from Manchester Metropolitan University, one of the report's authors.

The organization's well written statement concludes:

"...genetic research in the sport and exercise sciences offers the potential to make major new discoveries, which will further our understanding of the physiology and pathophysiology of sport and exercise. Important applications may result and we are likely to gain insight into the mechanisms that control some of the most studied variables in sport and exercise science. Genetic research is ethically assessed like other medical research and, given that this process is deemed robust, genetic research should be a welcome addition to the sport and exercise sciences. However, unwanted or illegal applications can result from genetic and other research even if this research is deemed to be ‘ethical’. For example, the production of recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) has not only improved the treatment of anaemic patients but has led to the misuse of EPO by endurance athletes which has probably led to the death of several athletes. Researchers should therefore try to anticipate the potential negative effects of their work and engage publicly in debates about their research."

Earlier this year, scientists at the Taipei Physical Education College announced that they are developing a gene bank containing DNA from super performing athletes from Taiwan. Here's an interesting quote:

Hsu claimed that by looking at the saliva of New York Yankees pitcher Wang Chien-ming, the reseachers can find out why Wang plays so well and whether other children who like to play baseball could one day become a second Wang Chien-ming.

Currently, the TPEC Ace Athlete Genome Bank has collected genetic samples from several top Taiwan athletes who have won Olympic medals, including taekwondo fighters Chen Shih-hsin, Chu Mu-yen and Huang Chih-hsiung.

After analyzing the three Olympic medalists' saliva, Hsu said, the researchers have found that Chen not only have "deletion (D) "polymorphism in the Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) gene of her 17th chromosome, the "insertion (I) " polymorphism -- usually only found in ace male athletes' genes -- also exists in the ACE gene of her 17th chromosome.

Geneforum sponsored an event a few years ago on the future of genetics and sports. Materials from the event, along with other interesting articles on genetics and sports, are available in the Gene Doping Forum.

(Image: From BASE's report)

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