‘Sports gene test is not a magic button’ | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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‘Sports gene test is not a magic button’

Tennis ace Leander Paes, in his father Vece’s words, is a short man playing a tall man’s game.

mumbai Updated: May 31, 2010 01:23 IST
Neha Bhayana

Tennis ace Leander Paes, in his father Vece’s words, is a short man playing a tall man’s game.

Going by his five feet nine inch frame, he is not ideally suited to play the serve-and-volley style of tennis, where the player moves quickly towards the net after hitting the serve and then hits a shot without letting it bounce. Yet Paes has mastered this technique and earned international fame.

This is why the senior Paes, who is a sports medicine specialist, believes the Sports Gene Test, launched in India two months ago, should not be considered a “magic button” that can tell you whether your child will be an Olympian.

“No single factor, whether it is a physical attribute or genetic make-up, can determine one’s performance in a sport. It is a combination of more than 50 different parameters and a lot of hard work that make a good athlete,” he said. “It’s not a bad idea to take the test but don’t lose perspective.”

Vece’s views reflect those of other sports experts Hindustan Times spoke to about the Sports Gene Test, which has been introduced in India by Super Religare Laboratories.

“The test will help parents provide appropriate training to the child. But they need to know that the gene can only tell you what the child is physiologically geared to do, not whether he/she will be a gold medalist,” said Manisha Malhotra, former tennis player who grooms young athletes.

Malhotra has already decided that when she has a child, she will take him/her abroad for a muscle biopsy, an invasive procedure to test the type of muscle fibre. “The gene test gives broad categories but the biopsy can tell you exactly what kind of sport the child is suited for,” she said,

But what if her child is not interested in the sport? “Of course, that is his/her choice. Parents must not force a child to play,” she said.

Some experts, however, feel that it is better to test the child on the field and not in the laboratory. “If you put 10 children through a gene test and put 10 others on the field, I am sure we will have better success in spotting the talented ones in the latter way. Any good coach can figure out whether a child has the potential to be an athlete,” said Viren Rasquinha, former Indian hockey captain.

ACTN-3 and sports

The ACTN3 is a gene, which instructs our bodies to produce a protein called alpha-actinin-3. This protein helps our muscles contract. Muscles contract differently during endurance and strength/ power exercises.
ACTN-3 is present in all humans. We get two copies of the gene, one from the father and the other from the mother.
The resultant combination determines which of the three variants of the gene one has inherited.
This variant helps decide whether the body will have more fast twitch muscles or slow twitch muscles and indicates predilection to the type of sports.
People with the XX variant of ACTN-3 have more slow twitch muscle fibres and are better suited for endurance sports like long-distance running, cycling and swimming.
People with the RR variant have more fast twitch muscles and are better suited for power sports like high jumps and weight lifting.
People with XR variant have a combination of muscle fibres and are suited for sports such as tennis and football where one needs both power and endurance.

The test

The sports gene test can tell you whether your child is best suited for an endurance sport or a power sport.
The child’s training and fitness regime can be modified accordingly to enhance performance
It can also help spot talent.
But the test cannot predict how good the child will be at a certain sport and whether he will be a stellar athlete.

Around the world

The Sports Gene Test was first introduced in Australia in 2004. It was then marketed in Europe and Japan. It has been available in the United States since 2008. The test has found many takers but is also dogged by controversy.
In India, it was launched by Super Religare Laboratories this March.