Genetic test determines what sports people should play - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Genetic test determines what sports people should play


There are numerous genetic labs that offer a test to help determine an athletic gene to see what sports one might naturally excel in, including speed or strength.

"It's arguably the most studied gene for sports performance," said Dr. Stephen M. Roth, researcher in exercise physiology, aging and genetics at the University of Maryland.

Roth has conducted his own research into the gene. He feels scientists need to do more work to determine ACTN3's exact role in determining athletic ability.

"There's evidence out there that it is one of the genes that contributes to sport performance," Roth said.

Everyone has two ACTN3 genes - one from each of their parents. Once they understand that concept, it helps explain one of the major studies on the sports gene.

In 2003, Australian researchers discovered a connection between the protein producing gene ACTN3 and athletic ability. That led to researchers around the globe looking into the gene to see if it can be used to pinpoint which types of sports a person would naturally play well.

The research found athletes in sports that rely on quick-twitch muscles for a quick burst of strength, like a track sprinter, had what's called a "double R."

The other, the homozygous X, or double X genotype, was found in the DNA of endurance athletes, like marathoners or cyclists.

The third type the test results could find would be the heterozygous, or one R and one X gene, which would be for sports like soccer, basketball or lacrosse.

From that early research it appears ACTN3 tells the body to produce protein that contributes to the muscle's ability to create powerful and repetitive muscle contractions.

KCTV5 investigative reporter Eric Chaloux decided to try out a DNA test for ACTN3 on Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber.

"I'm willing to give it a try to see what it comes up with," Feilhaber said. "It's a little bit funny to me."

The kit came from a genetic testing lab that provided two cotton swabs.

The instructions required Feilhaber to use the swabs to collect DNA from the inside of his mouth.

After a minute of time, the samples were collected, capped with a plastic cover and shipped off for testing for the ACTN3 genes.

The lab was not told that the sample came from a professional soccer player who played on the United States men's soccer team, former World Cup player and Olympian.

Feilhaber wasn't sure if it was a good idea for parents to test their child to see what sports they should play. He said some of the happiest moments of his childhood were out on the soccer fields with his friends.

"I remember just playing with my buddies out in the park somewhere, I have a lot of good memories when I was young," Feilhaber said.

While Chaloux waited nearly week for the results to get back from the lab, he decided to also talk to coaches and parents about the test for the sports gene.

On a soccer field in Lenexa, Nia Williams coaches a youth 10-and-under team.

"I tell them before every game, if you're working hard and having fun that's all I ask for," Williams said.

Along with coaching youth teams, Williams is also a member of the women's professional club FC Kansas City.

Williams thinks testing a child's DNA to pick a sport takes the fun out of being a kid.

"I was kind of like not really sure that would be something I would want to be interested in doing when I have kids," Williams said. "I think they need to choose on their own if they should be playing."

On that same practice field, parent Nicole Kuhlman was picking up her daughter from practice.

Kuhlman allows her daughter to try any sport she wants to play. Kuhlman said the DNA test for ACTN3 could be helpful to make sure the kid is on the right path.

"How to push your child, in a certain direction and health benefits would make a difference," Kuhlman said.

Roth feels somewhere in one's DNA, there is the answer about athletic performance. He doesn't think the science is a slam dunk to determine sports performance and possible talent selection.

"Is it predictable?" questioned Roth. "Hypothetically, yes, but it might take decades for the science to be clear enough to determine that level of prediction."

Along with Feilhaber's years of hard work on the field, there may be a genetic reason for his success.

The lab found he had an ACTN3 R/X genotype, which is found in athletes that need both endurance and power. One of the sports that was suggested for the pro soccer player, Feilhaber, was indeed soccer.

In Feilhaber's results, the California lab, Genomic Express, said that this genetic makeup may give him a competitive advantage over others, it's just one important factor but highlights diet and training are big indicators towards athletic success.

Genomic Express pointed KCTV5 to it's website for more information about the ACTN3 test.

The company says on the site, "knowledge of an individual's genetic variants that are relevant to athletic ability may allow choosing sports (or field positions within a sport) in which the individual is more likely to excel."

At the end of Feilhaber's test results, it mentioned that this type of genetic testing has not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

There are several genetic labs around the country that offer testing for ACTN3, the cheapest KCTV5 discovered was about $100.

Would you test your kids to see what sports they should play, or is it a slippery ethical slope? Sound off in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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