Genetic test kits can screen kids for sports potential

Little Timmy might really want to play sports, but will he be any good? An Australian company is offering a test that can analyze Timmy's athletic potential based on his genetic code. Sorry, Timmy, but your genes say you'd better take piano lessons instead.

MyGene's Sports Gene Test analyzes 18 gene variants associated with exercise and sports performance, and gives you a report summarizing your genetic 'fitness' in endurance, power, muscle recovery and injury risk. MyGene says that athletes can use these results to tailor their training programs to help them "improve in areas where [they] are genetically lacking." Sounds reasonable, sort of, but the worry is that information like this might be used to discriminate against athletes based solely on their DNA, or even to discourage children from playing sports if their genetic makeup isn't favorable.

We should be clear that MyGene is in no way condoning the testing of children under 18, and in fact won't do the test on kids at all because of ethical concerns. As MyGene's chief scientist says, "we don't feel 100 per cent comfortable with the potential for a child to be discriminated against based on their genotype." At the same time, however, the tests are anonymous and completed by mail, so MyGene has no way of knowing who exactly the cheek swabs that they analyze come from.

While discrimination at any age based solely on genetic testing is obviously a serious concern (go watch the movie Gattaca if you don't think so), it's not the test itself, or the information that it provides, that's the problem. The problem is how people decide to use that information. If athletes use it to help them train better, then that's good. If coaches use it to decide who makes the team, or parents use it to decide whether or not their kids should play sports, then we've got problems.

MyGene's Sports Gene Test costs about $200, and is available now in Australia.

MyGene, via ABC

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