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Scientists are skeptical

mumbai Updated: May 31, 2010 01:25 IST
Neha Bhayana

For the Sports Gene Test, a cotton swab is used to collect oral fluid from inside the child’s mouth and sent to the laboratory for analysis of a gene called ACTN3, which has been linked to athletic performance.

Each one of us has two copies of the gene, one from the father and the other from the mother. The combination we inherit determines whether the body will have fast or slow twitch muscle fibres.

Based on this, the laboratory gives a report, which states which category of sports – power sports, endurance sports or combination, your child is suited for.

Scientists find this test too simplistic. “It is unlikely that one gene, which is among more than 20,000 in the human genome, can determine one’s potential for sport,” said Dr Vidita Vaidya, a neurobiologist with Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

“Take the case of diabetes. Many people have a strong genetic pre-disposition for diabetes but not all of them develop the disease. It depends on a combination of factors including background of other genes and the environmental,” she added.

Geneticist Himanshu Sinha said that there is not enough evidence to establish the link between the ACTN-3 gene and sports for Indian population.

A 2003 study conducted primarily by researchers in Australia had identified the connection between ACTN3 and elite athletic performance. “The study had looked at 429 elite white athletes. The finding may or not hold true for the Indian population,” said Sinha, who is also attached to TIFR.

“The gene responsible for athletic performance could be entirely different for Indians and even if it is the same, it may or may not have the same effect,” he added.

Vaidya was also bothered by the fact that the test does not factor in the power of individual will. “The brain can override genetic make-up,” she said.

“I think such tests just tap into the hyper parenting mania. It is more important for a parent to find out whether the child has an interest in sports,” she added.