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Active Voice: Genetic Testing for Sport Talent Identification — Ready for Young Athletes?

from By Stephen M. Roth, Ph.D., FACSM

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Stephen M. Roth, Ph.D., FACSM, is Associate Professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland. His research is focused broadly on the interaction of DNA and exercise, including studies examining the genetic influences on exercise-related traits and also the role of chronic exercise on DNA structure. He is a co-author of the regularly published “Advances in Exercise Genomics” articles in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®.

Several businesses are now offering genetic tests that purport to predict one’s ability to perform in certain sports. The companies claim that the tests will show customers which sports they are most genetically suited for, or that the test results will inform training decisions for maximizing performance. Do these tests do what they claim? Is the science underlying these tests sound and ready for public consumption?

We know that genetic factors contribute to sport performance, but researchers are just at the beginning stages of identifying the specific genes and gene sequence variations that explain that genetic contribution. Over the past decade, researchers have begun this process, but at present only a handful of genes have been found that appear to contribute to such traits, and none have been shown to have a clear, strong contribution. In effect, these businesses are taking preliminary findings and marketing the genes as more concrete contributors to sport-related traits than the science justifies. In some cases, genes included in these tests have been examined in only a handful of studies, while in other cases inconsistencies in the research findings are ignored and only select findings are used to justify the inclusion of a gene in the test. In both cases, consumers are not getting a product they can rely upon. more

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