Playing with Genetics: D.N.A. & Sports

April 24, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Most expectant parents can't wait to see what their child looks like, and what that child will become. But now, parents can choose to take the surprise out of finding out by determining eye color, hair color, gender and even physical talents.Just like the game of baseball it's hit or miss when it comes to a kid's ability to play. But what if parents could find out if their child has the genetic make-up to excel in sports?

"I might do it just for fun but their abilities are seen out on the field," said mother Mirna Burdan.

Father Collin Wigton said, "I think it would be interesting to see if they said he was good for baseball, good for soccer."

That's just what a company in Colorado claims it can do. Atlas Genetics claims it has a patented D.N.A. test that can reveal a child's genetic predisposition for certain sports.

Parents can send in a saliva sample from their child and for $150 dollars, the D.N.A. is processed to detect what's known in science, as the "fast twitch muscle" gene, which the company claims can be found in some Olympic athletes.

But in California, parents might find it tough to get the test. Atlas Genetics website says it's not available in New York or California because laws in both states prohibit direct-to-consumer genetic testing without a doctor's oversight, but other genetics companies are working to reverse the law.

Atlas Genetics' president says the D.N.A. test is just one element of potential athletic ability, and that if combined with performance tests, the results can show if a child has playing power on the field.

"We're able to find out and make some pretty good predictions of those kids who can compete successfully for a division 1 scholarship for example in certain sports," said Atlas Genetics President Kevin Reilly.

While these parents watch their kids play ball at this field in Clovis some of them can't help but wonder if the next sports superstar is out on that field, right now. But a Fresno geneticist says it takes more than just D.N.A. to determine what a child will become.

"My first reaction is that parents obviously might want to know this information but my second reaction is kind of horror," said clinical geneticist Cynthia Curry, M.D. She believes D.N.A. tests that claim to predict athletic ability may be just money-making fads. "I think they prey on parents desire to know what's in their kid's future and it's very unlikely that that's the sole predictor of their child's athletic ability. It's likely to be just one of many factors."

Another genetics company "The Fertility Institutes" in Los Angeles also created controversy when it claimed its technology could help parents determine the hair color and eye color of babies. But weeks later, backed off its promises after public outcry and criticism erupted.

Fresno State Professor, Dr Andrew Fiala discusses the explosion of genetics advancements in his ethics class and says science is moving faster that the ethical debate surrounding it. "But that's the slippery slope problem right that if we're not careful, the next thing you know, everyone will feel like they have to control their children through their reproductive destiny and that would be such a strange and bizarre human development."

At this popular Clovis park, parent's opinions on D.N.A. determination are as varied as the eye and hair color of the kids who play. But many of the families said the only outcome that matters is the one money can't buy.

Mother Kathy Beatty asked, "Who really cares how your child looks or plays football? Just to have them here and have them alive is the most important thing."

State Health officials warn internet companies that offer D.N.A. tests, often do not have a physician or expert analysis at their labs to read test results and could be giving wrong information.

Currently, California does not allow those companies to do business in the state, without a license.

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