Can your child be the next David Beckham or Saina Nehwal? Indian parents are seeking the answer in a new, controversial DNA test, which tells if a child has the ‘gene’ in his or her body to excel in a particular sport.
“Analysis of the ACTN3 gene (popularly called the sports gene) can be used to predict the kind of muscle fibre a child will develop as he/she grows up. Based on muscular make-up, we can figure out the body’s capacity to adapt to different sports,” says Dr Naresh Padmanabhan, a Chennai-based orthopaedic surgeon.
While the ‘sports genetic’ test is popular in US, Europe and China, the concept was relatively unknown in India till sometime back. Padmanabhan adds, “Since testing started commercially in India six weeks ago, I have received more than 50 queries.”
The clear advantage: “Parents can identify which activity their child is genetically predisposed to, and channelise their natural athletic strength,” says Dr Ratna Puri, Department of Genetic Medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
But, some don’t support it. “Genetic make-up alone cannot be a determinant of which sport a child might excel in. There are other factors such as training, mental strength and the determination to excel which may play a significant role,” says Dr Ashish Rohatgi, a sports psychologist. “You can’t expect a child to become a professional runner just because he has the gene,” says Dr Prateek Kumar Gupta, orthopaedic and sports surgeon, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
Parents, too, are divided on their opinion. “I think this will help me groom my child in the right direction,” says Guneet Kaur, mother of a six year old. But Rahul Sharma, a father to a four-year-old girl, feels, “It’s not a great idea to base any important life decisions of a child on such limited information.”
The gene connection
The ‘sports gene test’ involves the collection of the DNA sample of the child, ideally between the age of 4-10, and a lab analysis of the ACTN3 gene. The DNA is collected from the inside of the child’s cheek. The test then can help determine whether the child would be better at power sports (the shorter sprints, competitive swimming over shorter distances, weightlifting), endurance sports (the marathon, hockey, long-distance swimming and cycling) or a combination of both (cricket, volleyball, tennis).
China leads the world in DNA talent testing on children and the Chinese government provides special scholarships to promote ’certified’ talented children. The test costs R1,900 and is being offered commercially all over India, in various laboratories and hospitals.