When the genome affects sport

Doping is a hot topic in sports. It is assumed that taking certain substances makes our body more efficient but, on the other hand, they are also dangerous. You start by making special diets, training more hours than normal, taking vitamin supplements or energy bars and you end up doing anything to gain. And if so, How far would you go where is the limit? What if it were in some other aspect of life as a student or working and being able to do more hours without getting tired? Some universities, including Cambridge, have proposed to do doping controls before exams.

There are cases that may not be within the prohibited tactics but that raise ethical questions. For example, Novak Djokovic used in 2011 a pressure chamber which simulated the effects that altitudes have on the human body and say that it is twice as effective as blood doping. It costs more than $ 50,000 and there are only 20 in the world. Is it fair for a tennis player to do that because he can afford it?

There are even more complex cases.

Imagine that an athlete has some genetic mutation that gives him an additional advantage. A case of these occurred at the Tokyo Olympics. An exceptional Polish athlete named Ewa Klobukowska, 21, won bronze in 100 meters and gold in relief. Although he was flat on his chest, his body was externally female. They said I had some masculine characteristics like longer and stronger muscles than those of women in general. He was tested in 1967 by 3 Russian and 3 Hungarian doctors. They all unanimously reached the same conclusion: "there was one more chromosome."

She was the first athlete in history to did not pass a sex control. Of course, Ewa had no fault of being the way she was, but neither would it be fair and sporty to face women, or maybe?

There are more cases. Myostatin is a natural protein that stops muscle formation. The year 2004 revealed the curious case of a German child who had been developing since childhood muscle mass much faster than normal. A genetic analysis showed that he had a mutation in the gene that makes myostatin. As a result, it had very low levels of this protein which made it a Superboy.

Interestingly, his mother, who had been a professional athlete, also had the mutation. The question is: should this family be banned from participating in competitions due to their genetic advantage?

Eero Mäntyranta: the pre-EPO genetic mutation

Another case was that of the Finnish cross-country skier Eero Mäntyranta. In the Winter Olympic Games of the 1960s, 1964, and 1968 won a total of 7 medals: 3 gold, two silver and two bronzes; Apart from that during the same period he also won two world championships in the 30-kilometer race. In the 1964 Olympic Games he beat his closest rival in the 15-kilometer race by a margin of 40 seconds. A margin that according to David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, it was a margin "never matched since then in the Olympic Games".

It turns out that Mäntyranta had a genetic mutation which caused it to generate between 40% and 50% more red blood cells than normal: just the effect that is sought when an athlete injects EPO.

Thinking about these last two cases: if it were possible to practice a treatment that would block us that myostatin-producing gene using scientific methods, would you see it correct if you had not been lucky enough to have been born with that mutation? Wouldn't it be like balancing the balance?

Cyclist Tyler Hamilton, one of the main gregarious of Lance Armstrong, wondered how it is that a sport in which no problems with the voluntary induction of anorexia As a measure to improve performance, be so annoying if athletes inject themselves his own blood. Both wanted to have the characteristics that Eero Mäntyranta had, but they did not have their genetic mutation and they tested it with non-legal methods. Why one thing yes and the other no?

On the one hand, if you think that these people with these mutations should not be able to participate in competitions I have to remind you that this is not very different to have been born with longer legs or with a physique that has more resistance or more height when playing basketball. And if you think that you should be able to participate without problems then why not allow others balance the balance even with artificial methods?

The answer is not simple, but it is a topic worth reflecting on.

Source | Salvador Macip, The moral dilemmas of science
Source | Isaac Asimov, The terrible lizards and other scientific essays
Source | Malcolm Gladwell, Man and Superman (The New Yorker)
Source | Neoteo
Photo | Ewa Klobukowska genderverification.blogspot.com.es)

Video: Will CRISPR-based human genome editing lead to super athletes? (February 2020).