Has Genetic Testing for Athletic Ability Created a Monster?

Filed under: In The News

genetic testing

Is your kid the next basketball superstar? A test could tell you. Credit: Getty

Well, this sounds like the beginning of a horror movie.

For $20, you can get a genetic testing kit that supposedly tells you if your child may be the next Michael Jordan. You scrape some genetic material off the inside of the kid's cheek and send the sample off to a lab. The next thing you know, it's, "Congratulations, Mr. Smith. It's a Heisman Trophy winner."

Yes, science can do that. Sort of. The Daily Mail in London reports testing cannot precisely predict greatness, but it can identify genetic characteristics that indicate your child may have strong athletic proclivities.


What's next? Once the genetic code can be deciphered and manipulated, will people grow armies of uber-jocks in test tubes in their garages in suburban Chicago? Do you have any idea what that could mean? The Cubs could have a winning season!

As seductive as that idea may be, scientists and ethicists worry genetic testing for athleticism may already be on a slippery slope that leads to a place that can only be described as Too Far.

There's the issue of testing children against their will, and other concerns, as well.

"In the 'winning-is-everything' sports culture, societal pressure to use these tests in children may increasingly present a challenge to unsuspecting physicians," a commentary in last week's Journal of the American Medical Association reads.

University of Maryland researcher Stephen Roth tells the Daily Mail genetic testing "is in its infancy."

"This is recreational genetics with a real serious potential for harm," he tells the newspaper. "People are going to think, 'If my kid has this, I'm going to have to push real hard. If my kid doesn't have it, I'm going to give up before I start.' While parents have the authority to make health care decisions about their children, this type of genetic testing is elective at best and should actively involve the children in the decision-making process."

Atlas Sports Genetics has sold hundreds of the kits for $200 since 2008.

"Our goal is to help people become the athlete they were born to be," Nat Carruthers, the company's operations president, tells the Daily Mail.

Alison Brooks, a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist at the University if Wisconsin, co-wrote the commentary for the American Medical Association, but tells the Daily Mail she's whistling in the wind when it comes to genetic testing.

"My guess is we're going to see more of this, not less," Brooks tells the newspaper.

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