Does your child have the DNA to be a sports superstar?

By Dan Wells –bio | email

CINCINNATI (FOX19) –If the research Atlas Sports Genetics follows proves to be correct, parents might have a much easier time selecting sports for their children to play.

The Boulder, Colo.-based Atlas Sports Genetics offers a cheek swab DNA test to search for the ACTN3 gene.

A 2003 study exposed a link between the ACTN3 gene and athletic prowess. Possessing the 'R' variant of the ACTN3 gene leads to development of the fast-twitch fibers that are crucial for success in sports like football, soccer, baseball, track and field, and other sports that rely on speed and power.

Kevin Reilly, president of Atlas Sports Genetics, says its business is evaluating the athletic performance of high school and college athletes.

The company also offers another service directed at the parents of young children. It's a service, Reilly says, that will help them determine which kind of sport their child may be best suited for genetically.

"If kids aren't given the opportunity to see where their genetic potential may have them best suited for, I think they're doing them a disservice," said Reilly.

For about $170, parents may send away for a kit that includes two cotton swabs. The instructions are simple. Swab the inside of the child's cheek and send the kit back to Atlas Sports Genetics. The company then mails the swabs to an Australian lab to find out whether or not the child has a variation of that DNA strand called ACTN3.

Studies have shown that everyone has two copies of the ACTN3 gene, given to them by each parent.

The lab specifically looks for a variant within the gene called R577X. Should the child have the variant in both copies of ACTN3, he or she would excel more in endurance sports like swimming. A child that does not possess the variant in either gene would excel more in power sports that require the use of fast twitch muscles like football or soccer.

It takes about three weeks to get the results of the saliva test, which looks for three combinations of ACTN3 genes, with a child getting one variant from his mother and one from his father. (Reilly says that the Atlas Genetics screen is the only one commercially available in the  U.S. that tests for fitness-related genes.)

Reilly believes that parents of young children tend to place them in the traditional four sports - baseball, basketball, football, and soccer. If a mother and father knew ahead of time that their child would be more likely to succeed in an endurance sport, it would open up new doors to other athletic activities they perhaps never thought about.

Reilly says this is exactly why Atlas Sports Genetics takes such care in screening potential applicants.

"The question is why are you doing it and what benefit is it going to be on a certain age group," said Reilly. "I'm not sure there's a danger but there is a waste of money. We're very clear when we talk to people…we really try not to support people who are not going to listen to what the science is indicating."

Reilly admits this particular science is still very young and it is precisely that reason why some genetic experts doubt the validity of this testing.

Dr. Derek Neilson, an assistant professor in the division of human genetics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, says he's doesn't buy in to the hype.

"There is no test that can predict from any age," said Neilson. "All you can do is really put your child through several sports programs and let them try out what sports they like and find out what they're strengths are from them."

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