For years, the World Anti-Doping Agency has considered requiring all Olympic athletes to submit copies of their genetic code. It would work as a check on so-called “gene doping,” the idea of changing the body’s biological machinery to make it stronger, run faster, or recover more quickly. A clean slate would reveal any nefarious performance-boosting tweaks—like, theoretically, altering the expression of fast-twitch muscle genes to engineer a perfect sprinter.
Establishing a genetic baseline for every professional athlete has long been cost-prohibitive—especially if it calls for a full genome sequence. But on February 5, the proposal is being seriously discussed for the first time at WADA’s headquarters in Montreal. As the cost of sequencing a person’s entire genome drops to only a few hundred dollars, the agency could implement the plan within the next few years.
[G]ene-editing techniques could be use to insert genes that regulate blood-oxygen levels, for example, which are critical for endurance athletes, or genes that regulate removal of lactic acid after a hard effort.
As the WADA panel discusses whether it makes sense to require genome sequences in whole or in part, they’ll also tackle issues of genetic privacy. If an athlete submits their sequence, the people who get to see that information will likely be debated by athletes, coaches and sports officials.
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