THURSDAY, July 26 (HealthDay News) -- Despite all the training, sweat, dedication and sacrifice that goes into becoming an Olympic competitor, these elite athletes also tend to have an advantage that average sports lovers lack: superior DNA. Just like eye color or a keen intellect, a constellation of the "right" genes can grace certain athletes with world-class speed, strength and endurance.
But with the advent of gene therapy -- technology on the cusp of helping treat grave illnesses -- are the days of "natural selection" of super-athletes coming to an end?
Genetics and athletics experts fear that the 2012 Olympic Games, opening Friday in London, may be the last without competitors secretly hinging their gold medal hopes on "gene doping" -- modifying their DNA to make themselves bigger, stronger or faster -- and that such gene manipulation may one day match the use of illicit performance-enhancing substances.
"Gene doping has been sort of smoldering as a theoretical possibility for at least two or three sets of Olympic Games," said Dr. Ted Friedmann, chair of the genetics panel of the World Anti-Doping Agency. "If you ask me how many more years it'll be before it's done, well, I'd say a very long time. But how many more years before some idiot does something stupid? That could be tomorrow," he added.
"The technology is ripe for abuse by badly trained people," explained Friedmann, also director of the Center for Molecular Genetics at the University of California, San Diego. "The chance of effectiveness if done by current methods is almost nil."
According to an article published July 19 in the journal Nature, more than 200 gene variants have been associated with athletic prowess, including a variant of the ACE gene linked to endurance and an alternative copy of the ACTN3 gene -- dubbed the "speed gene" and found in nearly every male Olympic sprint
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