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Genetic Doping: Scientists Seek To Prevent Athletes From Mutating

Tour_de_france_doping Faster, bigger, better, stronger—in theory, the single most effective way to radically alter your physical capacities is to manipulate your genes. Athletes are beginning to take notice. Now that we’ve mapped out the human genome and identified exactly which genes make you buff, tough and rough—experts are concerned about the future of genetic doping.

Gene doping could spawn athletes capable of out-running, out-jumping and out-cycling even the world’s greatest champions. However, researchers at the University of Florida are attempting to prevent that from happening by detecting the first cases of gene doping in professional athletes before the practice becomes mainstream.

Recently, Tour de France was marred by a plethora of drug violations, and now we’re coming up on the 2008 . Athletes are more desperate than ever to find a way to “stay ahead of the game”.

Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), responsible for monitoring the conduct of athletes, is working with investigators around the globe to develop testing to identify competitors who have injected themselves with genetic material that is capable of enhancing muscle mass or heightening endurance.

“If an athlete injects himself in the muscle with DNA, would we be able to detect that?” asked one of France’s leading gene therapy researchers, Philippe Moullier, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Gene Therapy Laboratory at the Universite de Nantes in France.

Right now, he says the answer is clearly “no”. But that may soon change. The UF scientists are among several groups collaborating with national and global anti-doping organizations to develop a test that can detect evidence of “doped” DNA.

“WADA has had a research program in place for some years now, to try to develop tests for gene-based doping,” said Theodore Friedmann, M.D., head of the agency’s panel on genetic doping and director of the gene therapy program at the University of California, San Diego.

It may sound strange and futuristic, but experts say the trend is emerging. Unscrupulous athletes began showing an interest in gene doping a few years ago after the first reports of muscle-boosting therapies in mice were published by University of Pennsylvania researchers.

Presently several potential targets of gene doping exist, including the gene for erythropoietin, or EPO, which increases red blood cell production in patients with anemia and boosts oxygen delivery to the body. In athletes, this translates to enhanced stamina and a clear competitive edge.

“The next variation of boosting red blood cell production is to actually inject the EPO gene itself, which would cause increases in red blood cells,” said Richard Snyder, Ph.D., of UF’s Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology. “So the idea is to develop a test that could detect the gene that’s administered.”

But it won’t be easy. Researchers are faced with a myriad of uncertainties, such as which tissues in the body to sample and how to distinguish a “doped” gene from a natural gene.

Therefore, a major objective of the UF-French collaboration is to decipher the structure of AAV, a virus commonly used to deliver genes into the body for therapeutic purposes. Gene “doping” would enter the body through a similar route, but scientists say the two procedures are as different as night and day from an ethical standpoint.

“When you use the phrase ‘gene therapy’ it should be very clear that you’re talking about therapy,” Friedmann emphasized. “But the same process of transferring genes would also be relevant in sport doping settings. And there you cannot talk about gene ‘therapy’ – you can simply refer to the same technology as gene ‘transfer’.”

Gene therapy has progressed rapidly, but the science is not yet predictable. Scientists say gene doping could have lethal consequences, but that athletes might be willing to risk it all for the potential performance payouts.

“I think many athletes know of the technology. They’re aware and they’re concerned.” But Friedmann points out that WADA is also aware and concerned, and planning on doing whatever they can to prevent cheating athletes from messing with their genes.

Posted by Rebecca

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Sorry guys but I fail to see why millions should be spent to detect gene doping. I say everything should be legal for an athlete to do. Just think of it, each athlete would be gene conditioned to their particular event Weight lifters and all strength events would be fun to watch as human mountains of muscle attempted to lift thousands of pounds......swimmers would be totally hairless with huge streamlined muscles in chest and legs to move them thru the water. Let the unrestricted doping begin and sit back and watch what developes in the wide world of sports.

Brings to mind Kurt Russel in Soldier. This has all been thought of long ago and you can bet it's been far down the experimental paths to reality for some time.

So some thoughts... When a nation decides to have genetically superior couples have children in order to use evolution to create superior athletes (much like we mate animals for specific traits) what will be done then? (I'm willing to bet it's been done for a while also).

When a nation decides to use genetic engineering to create superior athletes from birth... what then?

As for "Soldier"..... there may be a way to attend to the immediate issues of DNA doping in athletes today.... but you can also bet the engineered soldier is on the way.

And after it becomes normal for the military, it will move into everyday civilian life. I see a world where individual beings will become a lot more specialized in their chosen vocation.

Despite all the fuzzy logic in notions that we are all created equal (which is obviously not true)... the saying is about to take an abrupt 180.

Genetic engineering is one of those sign posts on the way to the singularity. It's inevitable.


If an athlete -or anybody- would like to alter it´s genetic information, so be it, if I´m already used to see manchiks in T.V and walking on the street, I´m pretty sure I can tolerate as well watching superathletes. HOWEVER they should have their own category to compete in, so it´s not unfair for the other athletes that don´t go under that genetic therapy. If in the future that would be the case, I would be thrilled to watch a "natural" athlete holding a better record than one with DNA modifications.
Here is a link for a short video regarding this topic:

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