As every parent vicariously living their dreams through their kids knows, children are an investment, to be guided and molded over time in order to fit a predetermined outcome.
And if DNA is destiny, as the saying goes, shouldn't our genes be able to tell us whether a child is better suited to be a virtuoso pianist or a superstar athlete?
In fact, dozens of companies promise that their genetic tests can help determine whether children are athletically gifted, and tailor nutrition and training programs to specific individual profiles. Can genes really predict future sports talents?
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In a word? No. The predictive value of these DNA tests in scouting athletic ability is practically nonexistent, and no child should be subjected to them, according to a joint statement by an international panel of 22 experts in the fields of genomics, disease and sports performance published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
While laboratories are able to sequence DNA with a simple saliva sample, science hasn't advanced to the point where the ability to interpret the meaning of genetic test results with great confidence with regards to athletic prowess. And genetic analysis certainly hasn't achieved the ability to determine which sports a child might be best suited, as some labs claim.
The scientists looked at 39 companies offering tests for the purposes of determining athletic potential. In more than half of them, the companies didn't disclose which gene variants they would analyze. For the remaining labs, the number of gene variants ranged from one to 27, with the average company testing six.
The most popular genetic variants tested were ACTN3 R577X and ACE I/D, both of which have been linked to endurance and power performance, according to an article published in 2013 in the journal Current Opinion in Pediatrics, though neither variant is predictive.
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Genetic analysis companies stretching the scientific evidence on health claims have been subject to scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the past. Although the FDA has the authority to regulate genetic testing, it has done so sparingly, explains the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In November 2013, for example, the FDA targeted 23andMe, "ordering the company to stop marketing its marketing its personal genome service (PGS). The service provided "health reports" on 254 diseases and conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.
Earlier this year, the agency eased restrictions on the company for tests aimed at parents looking to determine whether they might be carriers of Bloom Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. In the case of the Bloom Syndrome diagnostic, which serves a very narrow and specific purpose, 23andMe conducted several studies to demonstrate the accuracy and usability of the tests. The FDA still recommends, however, that any results be considered in conjunction with other available laboratory and clinical information.
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For over a decade, scientists have had a working model of the complete human genome. Advances in genetic analysis are still needed before we can decode our DNA. That hasn't stopped a handful of some companies from trying to make a buck by promising parents a window into their child's future.