Published On: Sat, Sep 10th, 2016

Scientists question genetic tests for sporting ability


At commercial laboratories in the UK and abroad, children can now have genetic tests for sporting ability. Some of the tests even try to predict suitability for a particular sport.

But should these tests be used to help spot athletic talent in children? “Don’t waste your money,” is the verdict of Mike McNamee, Professor of Applied Ethics at Swansea University.

Discussing the use of genetics for talent spotting, Prof McNamee highlighted the ethical problems of such tests. He argued that they interfere with the right of children to an open future, may narrow their interests, and could discourage them from certain sports.

There are other problems. The results may reveal the individual had a different father or uncover genetic abnormalities. It is for this reason that patients who have genetic testing in other scenarios receive special counselling.

Genetic testing for scientific research and clinical diagnosis is tightly regulated in the UK. Researchers have to obtain ethical approval and must comply with strict rules on data management to preserve privacy and data security.

The rules for commercial labs performing these tests are less clear. “What happens to the computers on which all of these things are stored when the company bursts off the scene?” Prof McNamee said.

Most of the commercially available tests check for variants in two genes, ACTN3 and ACE, which may be related to speed and skeletal muscle strength. However, the evidence to support these links was weak and the results were often over-interpreted to predict suitability for sports that required more than just speed and endurance, said Prof McNamee.

Scientists are trying to improve our understanding of how genetics influences sporting ability and predisposition to injury through collaborative efforts such as theAthlome project and go beyond the simple genetic tests on offer at the moment.

Instead of lab tests, Prof McNamee offers the following advice on how to spot athletic talent in children: “Go and watch them!”

Courtesy Financial Times

About the Author

Syed Ammar Alavi

- is Lahore (Pakistan) based journalist & writer with 25-year experience in print, wire and broadcast forms of journalism. His major fields of interest are politics, film,tv,sports, climate change and technology