DNA testing can be used for a number of non-health related activities. An area of interest is the potential for DNA testing to obtain genetic profiles for sport-related applications such as: (1) Talent search identification, (2) Personalisation of training programs, and (3) Avoidance of sport-related injuries.
Can DNA testing be used in talent identification?
There is evidence that genes contribute to athletic performance, although the contribution of genes to success at the elite level may range anywhere from 5% to 90%. There is no evidence that genetic variations can predict athletic performance. At the moment, DNA testing is unlikely to provide any additional information to an athlete, talent scout or coach beyond what already is known through the traditional talent identification programs.
Have studies shown any direct links between genes and sporting prowess?
A variation in a gene called ACTN3 has been identified by Australian researchers as one that may affect elite athletic performance. It is unclear how useful testing for this gene would be in making decisions about talent identification or personalised training. Attempts by some football clubs in Australia to use genetic information for selection or training have not produced any reported benefits and have been abandoned.
Can genetic screening be used to determine predisposition to illness or injury?
The use of genetic testing to determine whether an individual has a predisposition to sports-related illnesses or injuries is still experimental. It is known that some genetic disorders (e.g. Marfan syndrome - associated with tallness, and an abnormality of the aorta that can lead to rupturing and death) can represent a serious health risk in someone undertaking strenuous physical activity. In such cases, the physical appearances of Marfan syndrome or features of this disorder that are detectable by a test such as echocardiography, might be looked for in professional athletes, such as professional basketballers.
Are there any legal concerns about genetic testing in the sporting area?
The use of genetic testing and genetic information to exclude people from participation in sport, directly or indirectly, will likely become a bigger issue in future. Rather than evidence of an existing condition, exclusion could be applied in cases where a genetic predisposition to a condition is found.
The Australian Law Reform Commission and Australian Health Ethics Committtee through the 2003 report Essentially Yours: The Protection of Human Genetic Information in Australia recommended that, as a general rule, predictive genetic information should not be used to make decisions affecting employment. This recommendation would also extend to sport.
What are the ethical concerns with the use of genetic testing and information in sport?
There are concerns about the effects of the use of genetic testing on individual athletes, especially when this involves children or young people.