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GMAs - Genetically Modified Athletes

February 22, 2010

The celebration of sport and achievement is a common link for all mankind. Watching athletes at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics push the limits of the human body is astonishing and inspiring. Maybe this week I'll get off the couch.
Winter Olympics Torah Kachur Genetically modified athletes ethical sport
But, as in any major sports arena - the question is often asked - how much of this is real?

The use of performance enhancing drugs is certainly not new, but detection methods have caught up. So now, cheats in sport are blurring the boundaries between natural and artificial enhancement. Gene doping.

Many of the best athletes have a natural genetic advantage - slightly better oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood, genetic predisposition to carry more muscle mass or a biological lack of fear. Whatever it is, it is the natural variation amongst humans that makes watching sport so fascinating.

Until scientists start artificially tinkering with these genetic advantages. Gene doping is the introduction of beneficial genes into athletes, similar to gene therapy but for much less honorable intentions. One strategy involves introducing Repoxygen - a chemical modifier of the gene erythropoetin, which has been a common supplement of cross country skiers and cyclists alike. But now, instead of introducing supplemented erythropoeitin, the introduced chemicals are only upregulating the natural production of the gene. An enhancement of what is already biologically present.

Other targets in the DNA to naturally up-regulate involve insulin-like growth factor that will increase cell growth and turnover and myostatin gene that will deregulate muscle growth so that athletes will be able to grow to immense sizes.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is on the case; they are trying to be ahead of the game by monitoring what global genetic changes can be detected in athletes that are gene doping. But to what end? There are many debates about the ethics of just letting it be the Chemical Olympics and all doping/enhancement/cheating be allowed.

I, for one, believe in the purity of sport and the celebration of the human form. Keep sport clean.

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