posted on Aug, 24 2004 @ 09:24 PM
i find this a very scary and disturbing article.....
Will gene-altered athletes kill sport?
Soon, animal DNA could make us faster and stronger - no training needed.
By Gregory M. Lamb | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
It would make today's "cat and mouse" detection of drug-taking athletes seem trivial. It would produce excellence without effort, challenging the
spirit of the Olympics and the meaning of all sports competition. More broadly, it could become a kind of referendum on how the world views the
improvement of humans through technology.
The catalyst is an emerging science called gene modification or gene enhancement. Using it, an athlete could be injected with the DNA of an animal,
for example, and quickly become much faster and stronger. "You don't need to lift weights, and you don't need to go on 10-mile runs to train for
endurance," explains Peter Weyand, who teach kinesiology - the study of muscles and human movement - at Rice University in Houston. "It would replace
training; it would make training seem trivial and more than obsolete. Somebody who's not athletic at all could be transformed into something
Today's world-class athletes are already genetic oddities, possessing superior native abilities that they hone through training - and in some cases,
through illegal drugs. But with genetic engineering, anyone might enhance his or her abilities "100, 200, 500, 1,000 percent," Dr. Weyand says.
Borrowing the fast-twitch muscles of a mouse, for example, could create superfast sprinters. "If you start to think about the extremes in nature, it's
absolutely frightening" to consider what's possible, he adds.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which determines which substances are banned in international sports competitions, is so concerned that it has
already declared gene doping illegal, even though it believes it's unlikely that anyone is doing it yet. "The time to grab hold of this matter is
now," said Richard Pound, president of WADA, at a meeting of prominent scientists earlier this year. He urged them to devise ways to detect genetic
enhancement even as they develop the technique. Medical researchers are excited about the possibilities of genetic therapies to help patients with
muscle diseases such as muscular dystrophy, and to strengthen the elderly.
Interest in genetic enhancement in the sports world has exploded since publication in March of a study in a scientific journal showing that mice and
rats underwent remarkable changes when injected with a gene that promotes growth. H. Lee Sweeney, a University of Pennsylvania researcher, found that
these "Schwarzenegger mice" showed up to 50 percent muscle growth. Rats altered in the same way gained 35 percent in strength when the technique was
combined with exercise. Since reporting his findings, Dr. Sweeney has been inundated with requests for information from coaches and athletes.
Though Sweeney's work is years away from trials in humans, that doesn't mean that others might not be quietly moving ahead, eager to reap the
benefits. "The technology is available now for athletes to use. They're taking a big risk by doing it, but nevertheless it's out there, and they could
be trying it," says Andy Miah, a bioethicist whose book "Genetically Modified Athletes: Biomedical Ethics, Gene Doping and Sport," was published last
month in Britain. As last year's sports scandal over the designer steroid THG and the continuing drug disqualifications at this year's Olympics show,
"athletes are still doing things we don't know about," he says.
Gene therapies hold so much promise for helping humanity, Dr. Miah says, that he has urged the WADA not to treat them simply as a new form of illegal
doping. For example, gene therapy potentially could be used to repair the injured muscles of athletes. Would that use also be illegal? "It's that kind
of boundary that's unclear from the present rulings," he says. By making genetic modification illegal, athletes may seek out "rogue scientists," he
says. "If we do prohibit it, we push it underground, and we don't know what athletes are doing. They don't know what they're doing." If we regulate
instead, "we can try to make sure they're doing it in a safe manner," he says.
That's why Miah favors legalization and regulation over a ban. The world of sports already recognizes differences in innate ability, he says, as shown
by the paralympics competition for those with various disabilities, and the use of weight classes in sports such as boxing. Regulation would make it
possible to look at the genetic profiles of athletes and decide which ones are suited to compete against one another, he says.
Right now, no test exists to detect genetic enhancement, though finding foreign DNA eventually might be possible by taking tissue samples from
athletes. Equally unknown are the side effects.
"All bets are off when you start playing with genetic engineering ... in terms of system function, organ function, and long-term effects," says
Weyand. "If you put in superfast muscle, are you going to alter function in a way that the tendons and the bones might not be able to support the
loads?... You might start to snap tendons and bones. There might be deleterious health effects. We really don't know."
Yet the benefits will be overwhelmingly attractive to athletes. Strength and speed aren't the only abilities that could be supersized. Red blood cells
could be enhanced to carry more oxygen, revolutionizing endurance sports such as cycling, cross-country skiing, and long-distance running. The
technique also might be used to alter the way athletes sense pain, Miah says, allowing them to push themselves harder and challenging sports' ancient
work ethic: "No pain, no gain."
"It's a terrible situation," says John Hoberman, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has studied the history of sports doping.
Legalizing genetic modification would lead to "anarchy," he says. "Inevitably it's going to turn [sports] into a kind of circus - a freak show."
[Edited on 8/24/2004 by toejam]