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With the popularity of genetic testing, the public is aware of the role of DNA analysis to determine predispositions to various diseases. However, there is already serious debate on the marketing of genetic testing as a form of service for determining the child’s abilities. This information answers the question over the feasibility of genetic testing for talents of one’s child.
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Genetic Test Services Offered to the Public
Gene technology companies are already offering the public with testing kits. These testing kits claim to help determine talents among children by identifying specific genes.
A recent research revealed that there is a link between ACTN3, a specific gene in the human genome, and athletic abilities. This was the basis of Atlas Sports Genetics, a gene technology firm in Boulder, Colorado, in playing into the obsessions of parents and offering a genetic test. The test aims to predict whether the child would be best at speed and power sports such as football or sprinting.
In Singapore, the DNA Dynasty firm offers the genetic test called Kids Innate Talent Genetic Discovery. The said genetic discovery test can distinguish up to 33 genetic traits including intelligence, memory, emotional quotient, and entrepreneurship.
The same genetic tests are conducted by Shanghai Biochip Corporation in Chongqing, China. In an article by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chinese scientists claim that they are able to isolate eleven different genes with this genetic test. Looking at these genetic codes, information about the child’s IQ, memory, focus, and even athletic abilities can be extracted.
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University College of London's Institute of Child Health human geneticist Prof. Peter Scambler showed concern about these services being offered. It is very difficult to determine whether a child would be predisposed to have specific talents. Research reveals that the genes account only 2 to 3 percent of the variation, which determines certain traits such as intelligence and athletic performance.
University of California - San Diego Medical Center’s gene therapy program director Dr. Theodore Friedmann called these genetic tests for predicting a child’s ability as another opportunity to sell the latest version of snake oil. Other genetic experts agree that ACTN3 testing and other related tests for predicting the abilities of a child are still in the infancy stage of research. Hence, the tests are virtually useless as of this time of writing.
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There are ethical concerns with genetic testing as a tool to talent identification. One major ethical concern is that genetic testing and gene therapy open the door for gene doping, the practice of modifying the genes to better sports performance. This practice is disapproved by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee.
Aside from the concern on genetic doping, the use of genetic technologies to predict talents and potentials may also breach the European bioethics convention. Furthermore, the practice may also be in conflict of the North American anti-discrimination legislation. These regulations are designed to support vital ethical ideals and the commitment to protect the welfare of the patient.
The scientific community acknowledges the fact that the role of genetics in talent identification is still in its infancy. With all the ethical implications of genetic testing for talent identification, the public has to be generally aware of the uncertainties associated with this subject.
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Gene testing, together with gene therapy, has the potential to help identify talents in the near future. But with the numerous ethical issues and health risks associated with this technology at its infancy phase, the acceptance may still be delayed until all the skepticisms are settled with the right scientific findings on the subject.
Is genetic testing feasible for the identification of talents? As of the present, the answer would be no.
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McNamee, M. J.; Muller, A.; van Hilvoorde, I. & Søren, H. (2009). Genetic Testing and Sports Medicine Ethics. Sports Medicine. 39(5), pp. 339-344.