Ever since the discovery of DNA in the year 1953 and the subsequent breakthroughs in its application, DNA technology has successfully revolutionised our lives. From manufacturing better and more effective medicines to improving agricultural production with hybrid crops to fighting crime using DNA based evidence, DNA has brought about a revolution in our quest for a better future. The latest sector to benefit from this technology is, sports science!

DNA in Sports

While it is well known that your genetics have a huge role to play in determining such factors as hair colour, height and even diseases, researchers have now concluded that genetics can also play a huge role in determining a person’s physical performance.

Genetic Testing In Sports

In fact, genetic testing is already underway in sports leagues like NBA and NFL in the United States. For example,one of the things that the genetic test helps is in screening players for the variants of a gene called Alpha-Actinin-3 or ACTN3. ACTN3 is directly associated for the fast twitch fibres in the body which help athletes burst into explosive speed.

Once screened, the test results would allow team managers to figure out if a certain player is more beneficial in a position that requires endurance or should they instead pitch the player at different position.

Case Study – The Indian Cricket Team

Besides NBA and NFL, our very own Indian cricket team has already tried their hands with the genetic testing to reveal the fitness blueprint of the players. Apparently, this test has been introduced on the recommendations of the team’s trainer Mr Shankar Basu with a motive of developing a more customised fitness programme.

Genetic Testing In Sports
Photocourtesy: indiapages.in

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A recent report from India Today suggests that the genetic test would help the training team get an idea about 40 plus genes which are related to fitness, health and nutrition. The DNA data combined with the body weight and diet, will help provide an all-round analysis. The report also revealed that BCCI spends close to INR 25000 to 30000 per player for this test

Test Results Pay Off

According to the same report, one of the players who have benefited tremendously from the test results is none other than the pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar whose strength and stamina have improved tremendously.

Genetic Testing In Sports
Photo courtesy: DNA India

Pros and Cons

Like every new technology, the genetic testing too has the world divided into the ‘Yes’ and the ‘No’ camp. Here’s what they are saying:

Pros:

1. Customised Diet and Training Plans – Due to the highly individualized nature of the test, trainers can now access intricate fitness blueprint of the players and devise training regimen and diet with almost a ‘never before’ level of detail.

2. Simple & Cost Effective – If the reports are to be believed, at INR 25000 per player and for the level of detail the training team can get access to, it’s a steal. Especially when the results are touted to reveal indispensable information such as endurance, flexibility, power, cardiovascular fitness and many more such information which can go a long way in improving a player’s performance.

3. Might Help Avoid Injuries – Any sportsman’s biggest fear definitely includes a nasty injury on the field that would preclude them from future matches. A DNA test can help identify genotypes like COL5A1, COL1A1 and GDF-CT, all of which are associated with tendon or ligament injuries.

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Cons:

1. Quality Control – While there are many believers of the genetic testing, naysayers have also point towards instances where different results were obtained with different samples for the same individual. This indicates that the technology is still not perfect and still has loopholes.

2. Compromised Privacy – Concerns have also been raised about confidentiality of such tests since anyone who has access to the results can basically lay hands on very very sensitive information. The implications of this becomes grave once one realises that not just the individual but their whole family, including future progeny become at risk in case of a data leak.

3. Ethics – A range of issues have been raised regarding whether or not genetic testing is ethical in nature. Issues include informed consent of the test subject as well as the question of how any adverse discoveries such genetic mutation that may lead to potentially serious diseases will be addressed. And then there is the question of sportsmanship, since genetic testing offers the possibility of making competition one sided.

Depending on who you ask, the genetic testing is either a boon or a bane for the future of sports, but the fact that it may soon play a major role in the future cannot be ignored. So what’s your take on it? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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An avid bibliophile, blogger and a biryani enthusiast from the city of Nawabs, I love to write and eat.

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