Genetically Modified Olympians

syedmusamaBiotechnology, Science

Olympic Gene Doping?

Cheat Nature with Genes?

Scientists have discovered ways of transferring genetic material into human beings. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania have created mice that had enormous muscles and strength even in old age. These mice were created by injecting IGF 1 (insulin growth factor), which interacts with cells outside muscles and make them grow. They were named as Schwarzenegger after the popular American bodybuilder film star.

In another experiment scientists have created mice which can run double the speed as that of normal mice. They achieved this result by manipulating PPAR delta gene in mice. These mice were nicknamed marathon mice owning to their faster speed.

These experiments have shown the potential of gene therapy. Even though genetic doping in humans is more theoretical than experimental but as time passes by it is becoming a reality. It is feared that gene therapy on order to improve athleticism is already occurring. But anti-doping organizations still lack the resources and finances to catch the culprits. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), is already attempting to generate enough money and resources in order to detect genetic enhancement of athletes.

An article published in Journal Nature has reported about 200 genes associated with athletes’ prowess. One of these genes is ACTN3 gene or speed gene which is found in almost every sprinter. Eero Mantyranta a finish athlete has a mutation is EPO gene which increases hemoglobin levels. This allows him to significantly increase his oxygen carrying capacity.

Doping into the Unknown

Gene doping in which DNA is added in body usually by using inactivated virus, changed the genetic make-up of human. It creates proteins that infiltrate tissues or blood and improve athletic performance by increasing muscle growth, blood production, endurance or oxygen dispersal. Gene doping is not without its own risks and side effects. There is no research on the effects of gene doping on fertility or longevity. But most of the athletes are not concerned about the consequences. In a research by Bob Goldman, founder of US National Academy of medicine, asked athletes in 1980 whether they will take a drug that will win them medals but kill them within five years. Unexpectedly more than half of the athletes said yes. He carried same research for the next two decades and found similar results among the athletes.

The trend in Bob Goldman data shows the greed in human nature. Where ever there is money to be made humans will take risks to exploit it. Everyone wants to make money, fame or fortune even if it means bending rules to suit themselves. This has frightened the officials who are trying hard enough to develop techniques to prevent athletes from gene doping. No one knows if genetically modified Olympians are swimming in pools or running on track but London Olympics 2012 might be last Olympics where Olympians could hide their gold medals behind gene doping.