Atlas Sports Genetics claims to have a test that predicts which kinds of sports match your child’s innate abilities. You can buy it right now for $149.
The so-called R variant of ACTN3 instructs the body to produce alpha-actinin-3. This protein component of fast-twitch muscles provides forceful, quick contractions required to excel in power and speed sports like football and sprinting. The X variant suppresses the production of alpha-actinin-3.
Children inherit one copy of the ACTN3 gene from each parent, so they can be “RR,” “RX,” or “XX.”
Atlas Sports claims that power and speed sports are best suited to RR offspring, whereas endurance sports like marathons and distance swimming are best suited for XX offspring. Apparently RX offspring can do anything.
If this sounds dicey to you, you’re not alone.
Dr. Theodore Friedmann, the director of the gene therapy program at UCSD for example, told the New York Times the test amounted to “an opportunity to sell new versions of snake oil.” He elaborated, “I don’t deny that these genes have a role in athletic success, but it’s not that black and white.”
There is no doubt the science being commercialized here is compelling, if not ready for prime time.
In 2003, Australian scientists studied 429 world class athletes including 50 Olympians. They found that 50% of the 107 sprint athletes were RR. That’s twice the frequency of RR in the general population. And not one female sprinter was XX. What is more, every male Olympian involved in power sports had inherited an R variant from at least one parent.
So where does the XX Spanish long jumper fit in?
It’s hard to know but Carl Foster, a co-author of the study and director of the human performance laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse has devised another way to see whether your 6th grader will excel at power and sprint sports:
“Just line them up with their classmates for a race and see which ones are the fastest,” he said.