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Latest Bad Genetic Testing Idea
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December 02, 2008, 05:21 PM
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From the New York Times:
Sports May Be Child`s Play, but Genetic Testing Is Not: Born to Run? Little Ones Get Test for Sports Gene By JULIET MACUR

BOULDER, Colo.—When Donna Campiglia learned recently that a genetic test might be able to determine which sports suit the talents of her 2 Â?-year-old son, Noah, she instantly said, Where can I get it and how much does it cost?

"I could see how some people might think the test would pigeonhole your child into doing fewer sports or being exposed to fewer things, but I still think it`s good to match them with the right activity," Ms. Campiglia, 36, said as she watched a toddler class at Boulder Indoor Soccer in which Noah struggled to take direction from the coach between juice and potty breaks.

"I think it would prevent a lot of parental frustration," she said. In health-conscious, sports-oriented Boulder, Atlas Sports Genetics is playing into the obsessions of parents by offering a $149 test that aims to predict a child`s natural athletic strengths. The process is simple. Swab inside the child`s cheek and along the gums to collect DNA and return it to a lab for analysis of ACTN3, one gene among more than 20,000 in the human genome.

The test`s goal is to determine whether a person would be best at speed and power sports like sprinting or football, or endurance sports like distance running, or a combination of the two. A 2003 study discovered the link between ACTN3 and those athletic abilities.

If you want to find out if your kid is genetically best at sprinting or at distance running, then watch him while he sprints and runs and see which one he`s better at. Or you could ask him which one he likes to do more.

Let`s just assume that genetic tests for athletic ability actually worked. How useful would they be?

Well, if you are the Commissar of Olympic Sports in Red China charged with maximizing the gold medal count at the 2024 Olympics, sure, it would be helpful to have a whole battery of genetic tests given to all the children in the country in order to identify the little girls with the genetic potential to win gold in Lady`s Weightlifting or whatever, but, otherwise, so what? During the Olympics, you could read all these stories where the Chinese lady shotput champion would admit that she never wanted to be shotputter, she wanted to be a nurse, but the sports cadres had picked her out at age six as having the physical makings of an Olympic medalist, so she felt it was her duty to her parents and country to put aside her foolish dreams of helping sick children and devote her life to putting the shot.

In America, though, if your kid doesn`t want to be a triple-jumper or whatever, he isn`t going to work hard enough to get good at it no matter what his genetic potential.

The point of playing childhood sports should be to play childhood sports.

The one kind of test that might be useful would be a more accurate estimate of ultimate height, since so many sports and/or positions depend heavily upon growing up to be really tall. You can estimate adult height from child height, but it`s pretty inaccurate. All through my childhood, my pediatrician would plot my height on a graph and inform me that I was right on schedule to grow up to be 6`0". But, I ended up four inches taller.

An accurate estimate of adult height would be mostly useful in a negative sense in it might discourage some kids from over-specializing in height-dependent sports like basketball. The majority of black youths who think they are going to grow up to be in the NBA won`t make six feet tall. Similarly, more than a few white dads invest enormous amounts of time and money in nurturing their sons to be NFL quarterbacks, many of whom won`t get close to the 6`-1" or so minimum height.