Can A Genetic Test Spot Future Sports Stars?


Don’t you wish there was a way to tell if your baby would grow up into a sports star, so that you could start pinning all your deferred dreams of athletic glory on her while she was still in her crib? Well, now there is — sort of.

According to Forbes, the company American International Biotechnology Services (AIBioTech) has released a genetic test that purports to “make workouts more effective, children’s sports choices more appropriate and trainers’ awareness of potential risk factors more precise.” Boasts the press release, “It can even save a life.” The test, called Sports X Factor, analyzes nine genes, including one that may influence sprinting ability. Some of the genes may also affect risk of heart problems or concussions — hence the “life-saving” claim. But Steven Salzberg of Forbes notes that one of the genes may also be involved in Alzheimer’s disease, which “raises serious ethical questions. Do you really want your child to know that he/she might be pre-disposed to Alzheimer’s?” And experts warn that Sports X Factor might give parents and kids a false sense of security. Sports science professor Carl Foster tells the Washington Post,

If the test comes back negative, the parent might say, ‘Put them back in.’ If you get your kid back into competition too quickly and he gets another concussion, the kid is dead now.

Even leaving aside these larger-scale health concerns, is there really any point in testing kids for future athletic excellence? The old-fashioned way, wherein kids figure out whether they’re good at sports by, you know, playing them, seems to work just fine, and has the added benefit of giving kids some say in what they do. One of the most unpleasant sights on any Little League field is the parent who’s making a kid play against her will, and genetic testing seems likely to put parental predictions ahead of kids’ desires. After all, it’s the parents who have to pay for the blood tests and interpret the results, but only kids know whether they actually like the game — which, ultimately, is the most important thing.

Genetic Tests For Kids’ Sports Abilities: Hype Or Science? [Forbes]
Genetic Testing For Sports Genes Courts Controversy [Washington Post]

Image via Rob Marmion/

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