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Young or old, the genes have it, or don’t

india Updated: Jul 23, 2009 23:32 IST
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Baseball scouts are agog over Miguel Sano's hands — strong, supple and deft. But he still had to place them under a bone-scan machine, just in case.

Sano, considered the best unsigned prospect from the talent-rich Dominican Republic, twice underwent such a procedure to help assess whether he actually is 16 years old — and not 18 or 19, as his major league suitors routinely suspect.

He also provided samples of his blood, urine and faeces to Major League Baseball investigators so they could assess his DNA.

In a written statement on Tuesday, baseball said that it used DNA testing in the Dominican Republic “in very rare instances and only on a consensual basis to deal with the identity fraud problem that the league faces in that country.”

The statement added that the results of the tests were not used for any other purpose.

Sano is among the Dominican prospects whose ages are being scrutinised in new ways that some people consider necessary, others consider troubling, and the United States has taken steps to outlaw.

Having invested millions in players who were later found to have lied about their age, baseball and its teams have turned to analysing DNA to help determine whether prospects are falsifying their identity, and bone scans to assess their age range.

The league has defended the practice as a way of protecting its teams, but bioethics experts question whether DNA analysis can be abused.

Legislation scheduled to take effect in November prohibits US-based companies from asking an employee, a potential employee or a family member of an employee for a sample of his or her DNA. It is unclear whether the law would apply for tests performed abroad on non-US citizens.

Sano's sister Patricia, 17, underwent the bone scan as well to reassure baseball that she was his older sister, and not a younger sibling whose birth certificate was used to falsify Miguel's age.

He said his biological parents also provided samples of their DNA to prove he was their son.