Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Your child is a athlete, Gene tests can reveal

Was your kid born to be an elite athlete? Marketers of genetic test claim the answer is in mail-order kits costing less than $200.

Some customers say the test results help them steer their children to appropriate sports. But skeptical doctors and ethicist say the tests are putting profit before science.

Scientists have identified several genes that may play a role in determining strength, speed and other aspects of athletics performance. But there are likely hundreds more, plus many other traits and experiences that help determine athletic ability, said Dr. Alison Brooks, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin.

A handful of companies are selling these tests online. In some cases, the tests screen for genes that are common even among non-athletes.

Bradley Marston of Bountiful, Utah, bought a test online a year ago for his daughter Elizabeth, then 9. She's "a very talented soccer player," and Marston wanted to know if she had a variation of a gene called ACTN3, which influences production of a protein involved in certain muscle activity. The $169 kit consists of two swabs to scrape cells from the inside of the cheek.

Elizabeth Marston's test showed she has a sprinting-related gene form - results her father hopes will help her get into elite sports programs or win a sports scholarship to college. Elizabeth has loved soccer since age 4 and said she's happy with the results. But even at age 10, she knows it will take more than genes to reach her goal of playing in the Olympics. "I think I would have to train hard," she said.

University of Maryland researcher Stephen Roth, a specialist in exercise physiology and genetics who has studied the ACTN3 gene, said the science of how genes influence athletic ability "is in its infancy" and that marketers claim are based on "gross assumptions."

Dr. Lainie Friedman Ross, a medical ethicist and pediatrician at the University of Chicago, said the tests raise ethical questions when used in children because they're too young to understand the possible ramifications and to give adequate consent.

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