October 02, 2002
Athletic Genetic Manipulation To Be Banned

Learn a new acronym if you don't already know it: World Anti-Doping Agency or WADA. Sounds like something out of an Austin Powers movie. Well, WADA and the International Olympic Committee are banning genetic therapy to enhance athletic performance:

Lungs designed to saturate oxygen for endurance running; arms custom-built for golf, tennis, baseball-pitching, or javelin-throwing; knees constructed for skiing; sprinters, perhaps, with cells cloned from cheetahs, and rugby-players ditto, but additionally modified with cells from the fighting Miuras of the Spanish bullring? Jonah Lomu would look like Ronnie Corbett.

Science fiction? Sport does not believe so, as evidenced by the decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency and International Olympic Committee to add genetic manipulation to the list of offences under their rules.

There is no end to the number of ways that genetic engineering will enhance athletic performance:

'Designer knees' for downhill skiers or 'super arms' for tennis players have moved from science-fiction novels to the agency agenda as it fears genetic engineering could become the biggest threat to the future of sports. However, the anti-doping authorities are already playing catch-up and genetic doping could prove hard to rein in.

This article predicts genetically engineered athletes within 10 years:

"It's within the grasp of any graduate-level student in molecular biology," said Dr. Ted Friedmann, director of the gene therapy program at the University of California at San Diego and a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency's health and research committee.

"He or she could give you at least four different ways to do it. They could also tell you how to improve oxygen transportation or tell you how to engineer faster and stronger athletes. That, combined with the existence of huge amounts of money in sport and the pressures to excel, all suggests something will be done in this direction.

Gene therapy to enhance athletic performance will be much harder to detect. It could be injected directing into an organ and the effects could be limited to just that organ. So how to detect it? Take samples from every organ? Seems impractical.

Gene Therapy Will Still Become Widely Used For Athletic Purposes

Gene Screening For Recruitment: There is another way that genetic technology will change athletics: genetic screening to choose the most promising athletes for training and recruitment. This will be done for reasons other than pure performance potential. Proneness to injuries and ability to heal from injuries will surely be found to have strong genetic components. So an NFL football club faced with a difficult choice may well opt for the fellow who is less likely to be sidelined by injuries.

Repair That Improves Function: Another conflict will arise over the question of gene therapy for injury repair. It is inevitable that some gene therapy will be developed that will, for instance, repair a ligament that makes it even better than new. Many people in the general public will decide that if their ligament was weak enough to get injured in the first place why not apply a treatment that will make it stronger. Will an organization like the IOC allow athletes to do the same? if they do then injured athletes who have been treated and healed will be more capable than those who haven't yet suffered injuries.

Pro Sports and Ratings: I predict that there will be professional sports organizations that decide to allow it. Look at pro wrestling which is a sport that is as much about entertainment as it is about physical prowess. Also, look at the circuits travelled by former Olympic skaters. The audiences just want to see a beautiful show. The injuries experienced by pro skaters in their 30s or 40s will be dealt with using the latest in genetic therapy. The ability to pull in crowds and have good TV ratings will outweigh the sorts of concerns that motivate the managers of Olympic sports.

Ballet and Gene Therapy: There are occupations that are similar to athletics in that they place special demands on the body and cause much higher rates of career-threatening injuries. The best example is ballet. Injuries to muscles, ligaments, and tendons are frequent occurrences and too often career ending. I expect gene therapy to improve ligaments and tendons will become very common among ballet dancers.

Genetically Engineered Children: The IOC has banned gene therapy for athletic enhancement. But what happens when inevitably someone uses genetic engineering techniques to choose genes for their children before the children are even conceived? Are all such children to be banned from Olympic sports and other amateur sports? Parents may enhance their children by using genetic variations found elsewhere in the human population which they themselves do not possess. In these cases it will not even be possible to detect this sort of genetic engineering unless genetic samples are taken from the official parents and compared to the genetic sequence of the athlete.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2002 October 02 04:14 PM  Biotech Athletics

Agatha Riley said at August 12, 2003 5:42 PM:

why does this sound so improbable to me? genetic engineering has been promising to cure world hunger for who knows how long and that hasn't happened. what's to make you so sure this will happen anytime in the future? seems very unlikely.
a genetic engeneering apprentice

Udi Shpirer said at August 27, 2003 3:45 AM:

I can think of an additional use for genetic manipulation if athletes :
What if we could determine what are the standard values allowed in each sport for each active body organ (ie - lung capacity), and allow genetic manipulation just for those who's organ size is smaller than the standard (which can be set at, let's say, Armstrong's capacity, in which case only those with lungs smaller than Armstrong's will be allowed to undergo this treatment). This way we can create a situation where sport ability is solely dependent upon training methods and consistency, rather than on on the genetic skill you were born with. If I couldn't jump too far when I was a kid, it doesn't mean I don't like jumping and don't want to compete at it!

comments to : atpaddict@walla.co.il

Marissa Buckley said at October 27, 2003 7:37 PM:

If anyone has any information on genetic manipulation that you can share with me I would greatly appreciate it. I am doing a report for my English IV class and I need more info. Any little bit would help! Thank you!

Odi Ori Otti said at May 17, 2004 7:02 PM:

Ori odi, I say I been a manipulated ori otte. Disnae work likesay, a speaka 11 languages and im sposed to be an athlete!

bob said at June 6, 2004 5:32 AM:

The reason why this would be so prominet in sport is due to the finacial reward now experienced in many sports

Abby Miller said at January 1, 2005 2:29 PM:

My comment is about not letting the children who have been created to be super athletes. Why should we not let them play in certin leages! Its not our right to deprive children of the joys of sports! I think that they should have their own leage for genetic engeneered children that way the normal children would still be able to play as they normally do and the geneticly engeneered kids could do as they pleased.

Susan Woodbanks said at January 4, 2006 9:59 AM:

Why should kids be genetically modified, God has a purpose for all of us. You should love your child whichever shape or form he/she is! yes, its all very good now but in years to come, will hunger be solved? I agree with it up to a certain point, like curing diesese, but to choose a baby...No!

Maddoc07 said at March 24, 2008 3:20 PM:

Genetic engineering is just wrong. Humans have become so consumed with the need to be the best. Nature will bite us in the ass for this. It should never be allowed in sports because it sends such a bad message to kids. It is like saying That God didnt do a good job in designing us so we are going to do it ourselves.

M. Pickering said at April 3, 2008 12:50 AM:

That is because God doesn't exist. Please don't bring your ridiculous "because its against God" argument out. It is frankly embarrassing. Genetic modifcation within certain domains can and will help mankind in the future. The world needs rid of the moronic religious people denying science when it suits them and lapping it up when they need it (hospitals etc).

saveus said at March 10, 2009 7:21 PM:

Your belief that God does not exist biases you and skews your rationale thinking. Call it "God", call it nature if you prefer, but the post is well taken in that, humans, due to their large capacity for high level cognition will be their own undoing. The same arguement is made concerning nuclear weapons. The larger question is, can man become so competent that they destroy themselves?

Casey said at September 10, 2009 12:40 PM:

I believe that if children are going to be genetically-modified, it should only be accepted and allowed in cases
where the child's health is threatened and the gene-manipulation could be used to prevent or lessen the severity of
the disorder.

Gene-programming for superficial reasons denies the child's right to be a natural individual and is used in the parents'
best interest rather than their offsprings. If they want to have a prettier face or a different hair or eye color they can
choose to do it themselves when they are older.

Parents who want their kids to be athletic stars and are willing to change up their genes are extremely selfish and are
using their childrens lives to live out their own unfufilled dreams, which is sick. I wish I could laugh in the face of any
parent who would have their kid pumped with hormones and masculinity enhancing substances only to have a kid join the academic
decathalon and the chess club, unfortunately, the more you think about it, the less funny it is. Victims of their parents need
to be protected. Let the kid choose who they are going to be and let them develop character through their natural limitations.

Cybal said at November 15, 2009 1:03 PM:

I think many people have the wrong opinion of genetic modification. They think of strength-enhancement and automatically wonder how we could abuse it. In any society there will always be people who abuse what they have, but that should not keep us from achieving something higher. If that were the case we should all live without any technology or medicine "because that's the way we came". Enhanced strength and endurance could allow us to work harder and longer, prevent back injuries, make better livings, and reduce our dependency on machines. With enhanced intellect we could greatly speed up the process of learning about disease and ways to prevent or cure it. What if the cure for cancer is right beyond the scope of our mind? What if the cure could be achieved by making ourselves smarter? What if we could all learn things just by hearing them once? If the world could be made better with just one injection, would you want to throw it away just because of moral dogma or "what-if" situations? Everyone could use some help, why is it wrong to be able to help yourself?

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