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Genetic test for sports ability raises concerns in US

31 May 2011
Appeared in BioNews 609

A US company has launched a mail order genetic test that claims to provide 'athletes and parents of young sports competitors' with information about the user's athletic strengths, what type of training will be most beneficial, and potential injury risks.

The 'Sports X Factor' test, produced by American International Biotechnology Services (AIBioTech), allows users to send a cheek swab sample through the post for DNA analysis. It targets a collection of six genes believed to be linked to athletic ability.

'Our main goal with Sports X Factor is to provide an affordable means for athletes and parents to access genetic information for the purpose of making informed decisions about maximising performance', said Bill Miller, chief executive of AIBioTech.

AIBioTech is not the first company to offer this service. Atlas Sports Genetics, based in Colorado, USA, currently charges $169 for customers to have their ACTN3 gene analysed. Research has suggested ACTN3 is linked to muscles that can produce quick bursts of power best suited to sprint sports.

The services AIBioTech are offering have been met with some criticism. 'This is really disturbing', said Professor Lainie Friedman Ross, a paediatrician and bioethicist at the University of Chicago. 'Sports and physical activity should be fun for kids. It shouldn't be, 'You're going to be the world's greatest athlete' or 'Give up now, kid, because you won't have a chance' because of your genes'.

Others have welcomed the news. Bradley Marston of Utah had his 10-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, tested because he was curious to learn more about why she excelled at soccer.

'I already knew she had that something special. This is just a tool to help me determine what to do with her strengths as well as some of her shortcomings', he said. Elizabeth's test indicated her muscles are predisposed to quick spurts of power rather than long endurance trials.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has requested the company assess its DNA analysis services for accuracy and has asked it to provide justification for marketing the product without its authorisation.

In response, Miller said the company is 'pleased to cooperate with the organisation at a time when human genomics is coming to fruition under the FDA umbrella'. He added: 'AIBioTech believes that everyone has a right to their genetic information without a prescription'.

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