What's wrong with gene therapy to boost athletic performance? Yet another worry article about what could be a very positive development.
Officially, UK Anti-Doping, the body which oversees the control of performance enhancing drugs in Britain, says genetic manipulation as a form of performance enhancement "is currently a theoretical rather than a proven issue".
But Andy Parkinson, UKAD's chief executive said: "I wouldn't be surprised if someone out there is trying to do it, and I think that's very worrying."
My worry is that gene therapy is such a hard problem (e.g. cancer risks, difficulties in delivering genes to enough cells, difficulties in delivering genes to only the desired types of cells, etc) that gene therapy won't make much difference to athletic performance any time soon. But as I've recently argued a gene therapy arms race to enable genetically less well endowed athletes to compete with the genetically fittest athletes would generate many medically useful spin-offs. If organizers of athletic events allowed biotechnological enhancements for athletic performance the rest of us would benefit from a faster rate of progress in the development of medical treatments for many diseases of old age.
So why the opposition to all manner of athletic doping, including gene therapy? I think some of the opposition stems from a desire to believe that athletes win by a more determined and sustained exercise of willpower. We want to see people succeed by doing large amounts of hard work aimed at a lofty goal. But I think this desire is based on wishful thinking. The outcome of Olympic sporting competitions hinge greatly on relative athlete genetic fitness. Those lucky few who have a low burden of harmful mutations have big advantages. Those who have still other genetic variants that make them fast distance runners (or other genetic variants that make them fast sprinters) will win the races.
None of this is meant to say that individual effort does not matter. Of course the drive and effort of the athlete plays a role. But individual effort in elite sporting events only matters among those genetically most well endowed. If athletes could use gene therapies to boost their athletic performance then the effect might be to close the gap between the genetically most and least well endowed. Then with genetic differences lessened we'd get mores sporting contests whose outcome would be decided individual efforts and judgments of peers.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2012 August 07 10:21 PM Biotech Athletics|