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Genetic research and testing in sport and exercise science: a summary of the BASES position stand.

Williams, Alun G. and Wackerhage, Henning (2009) Genetic research and testing in sport and exercise science: a summary of the BASES position stand.

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Abstract

The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) Molecular Exercise Physiology Interest Group has produced a position stand to advise on ethical and other issues associated with genetic research in sport and exercise science. This article is an updated summary of the position stand. The heritability of sport and exercise-related traits such as maximal oxygen uptake, muscle fibre composition and trainability is often approximately 50%. Little is known about the variations in DNA responsible and a major aim of current research is to identify the variations in DNA (or genetic loci) that determine heritable traits. Identifying the genetic loci will also inform us about the mechanisms that regulate a trait and could be used to develop applications such as genetic performance tests or genetic screens for individuals at high risk of sudden death during sport, for example, due to a gene mutation related to cardiac function. Another application could be to use genetic tests to prescribe personalised training or exercise therapy programmes for athletes or patients, respectively. Serious ethical concerns are associated with genetic testing especially when such testing is performed on embryos or minors, requested by others such as parents, coaches or physicians and when it is used to discriminate against athletes, for example by selecting squad athletes on the basis of genetic performance tests. Recommendations from the position stand include: (i) Scientists should be aware of the ethical implications of their work and engage knowledgably in public debates; (ii) genetic testing in the sport and exercise context (with the possible exception of preparticipation risk screening) should be confined to mature individuals who fully understand the relevant issues and a system of counselling should be introduced; (iii) pre-participation genetic risk screening should not be obligatory and the confidentiality of such testing should be ensured.

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