March 13, 2009
Genetic Variants Mean Personalized Athletic Drug Testing Needed

Only genetic tests can tell us what we need to know to determine whose hormone ratios are natural.

Current steroid (testosterone) doping tests should be scrapped for international sport, because they ignore vital ethnic differences in hormone activity, suggests research published ahead of print in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Testosterone, and other hormones that boost testosterone levels, such as growth hormone, are among the most widely abused performance enhancers used in sport, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Evidence of abuse is determined by the testosterone: epitestosterone ratio, or T:E ratio for short, in the urine. The threshold is set at above four for everyone, and confirmed by chemical analysis (gas chromatography).

To highlight the inadequacy of the current test, the researchers tested the steroid profiles of football players of different ethnicities, after they had deliberately added steroid to their urine samples.

The scientists think that a variations of the UGT2B17 gene account for some differences in the testosterone: epitestosterone (T:E) hormone ratio.

They used gas chromatography, and took account of a variation (polymorphism) in the UGT2B17 gene.

Previous research has indicated that variations in this gene account for some of the differences in the urinary T:E ratio between men of white and Asian ethnic backgrounds. The gene affects metabolism, and therefore the rate at which testosterone is passed out of the body into the urine.

They included 57 men of Black African origin; 32 of Asian origin; 32 of Hispanic origin; and 50 of white (Caucasian) origin in their research. All the men were aged between 18 and 36.

The frequency of these genetic variations differs between races.

The results revealed the genetic variation in almost one in four (22%) of the African footballers; in eight out 10 (81%) of the Asian players; one in 10 of the white men, and in 7% of the Hispanic players.

Based on these findings, the Swiss researchers "recalibrated" the thresholds for each ethnic group.

They should measure a larger sampling of people of different races to get more accurate estimates of the frequencies of UGT2B17 gene variations in each race. Perhaps that work has been done already? Anyone know? International HapMap database anyone?

These scientists calculate that different T:E ratios should be seen as the natural typical ratios to expect for each race. But these ratios do not work for individuals for the same reason the races differ on average: People within a race will differ in which genetic variation they have in UGT2B17.

The new T:E ratios were: 5.6 for men of African origin; 5.7 for white men, and 5.8 for men of Hispanic origin. For men of Asian origin, the ratio was 3.8.

While the press release is vague on this point the press release might be hinting at the need to do genetic testing on athletics to discover what their hormone ratios should be.

A single indiscriminate threshold to pick up steroid abuse in international sport is "not fit for purpose," the authors conclude. Instead, the reference ranges should be tailored to an athlete's individual endocrinological (hormonal) passport, they suggest.

"[Such a] passport may detect modifications induced by abuse of testosterone and its precursors, but also alterations in the steroid profile caused by indirect androgen doping products," they conclude.

A complete genetic profile will eventually be needed for each athlete to determine the expected natural range for a wide variety of hormones and other chemicals and structures within the body. Athletes will use their genetic natural ranges in order to know how much cheating they can get away with. They'll use drugs and other therapies to push their physiology to the limits achievable through extreme exercise.

Genetic profiling of athletic potential will lead to acceleration of human evolution. Parents will give their offspring ideal genetic variants for athletic performance. Then genetic testing will show future athletics as more capable of extreme (at least by today's standards) levels of achievement. Then athletic associations be faced with the decision of whether to test parents in order to determine whether Lance or Mary Lou has natural genetic variations.

In the long run I expect anti-doping testing regimes for athletes to collapse due to impracticality. Few humans will be wild type. When rules against genetically engineered competitors require the banning of most humans from Olympic and other amateur and professional athletic competition then people will reject the rules.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 March 13 11:13 PM  Biotech Athletics

Dentin said at March 14, 2009 6:24 AM:

The Olympics in particular greatly irritate me and I find the controlling body to be quite unethical in their treatment of athletes. The idea that 'natural' mutations that make an athlete a superstar are ok, but 'unnatural' modifications are not is ridiculous even now, and will be getting worse. What about when people can seamlessly change their genetic code to express whatever they want? Do we require genetic records from birth for participants? How about parents who decide to engineer the perfect long distance runner baby before it's born?

It's all just so irrational, and reeks of the idiocy we see in 'organic' foodstuff propaganda these days.

Nancy Lebovitz said at March 14, 2009 7:45 AM:

Are the genes alone going to be enough information? I don't know about this particular case, but gene expression can vary a lot.

dick fuel said at March 14, 2009 12:34 PM:

wont ever be stopped

bodybuilding has already segregated its participants, other sports may choose to do the same

how long until brain scans/cognitive tests (wmc) are used to screen prospective students or employees?

be a step ahead or forever behind...

David Govett said at March 14, 2009 5:48 PM:

To make it fair, all Olympic athletes should be required to have the same genome.

Randall Parker said at March 14, 2009 6:48 PM:


We need to know about epigenetic data to make even more precise estimates. But just by knowing more and more what all the genes do I suspect scientists will be able to make progressively more accurate predictions about natural expected hormone ranges and metabolic ranges.

David Govett,

I like your creative and logical thinking. Yes, of course. Anything else would be unfair to some contestants. Genetic equality!

averros said at March 15, 2009 3:40 PM:

...heh, I think they'll come to the idea of adjusting sports results to correct for differences in genomes, to make it more fair.

This will finally make the Marxist roots of the anti-doping ideology very clear for everyone to see - if it is effort spent on getting there which matters, rather than result, then effort (labor) is what is valuable in the result. Pure Marxist labor theory of value:)

Mthson said at March 16, 2009 10:38 PM:

It'd be much easier to simply end the practice of awarding medals to "winners," which is subjective and undervalues the contributions of the many less advantaged participants.

sergio r sant ana said at March 23, 2009 1:32 PM:

could it be possible that brazilian swimmer rebecca gusmao have not used drugs to get an "upgrade" on her hormone levels?

Black P.I.M.P. said at March 23, 2009 7:40 PM:

So Asian men got more testosterone? And Latin men got less? Interesting... Always thought us blacks had more testosterone than any race, that's why women are crazy for Black men. But, after this study we are just the second... Asian men are the pimps!

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