The Olympic athletes of the future will be genetically vetted — at least, that's what officials in Uzbekistan are banking on. In a world first, the country will reportedly start conducting genetic analysis on kids as young as 10 years old, in the hopes of finding out which ones are predisposed to excel at a given sport.
According to The Atlantic, the country's Academy of Sciences and National Olympic Committee will by 2015 oversee a program called "sports selection at the molecular genetic level" run out of Uzbekistan's Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry. In an interview with project leader Rustam Muhamedov, published in the Pravda Vostoka newspaper, he notes that scientists have been studying the genes of strong Uzbek athletes for several years and will use that data to inform the program.
Sports selection at the molecular genetic level
Of course, while the intersection of sports science and genetic testing is intriguing, it's also extremely preliminary — not to mention something of an ethical minefield. Still, the International Olympics Committee hasn't banned genetic tests for champions-to-be, and some tests have been conducted to ascertain the potential talents of adult athletes. Even those, however, remain far too uncertain in their predictive powers, and don't paint a full portrait of an individual's athletic potential. "We have no clue what most genes do," said David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene. "So if you make a decision based on a small number of genes, which presumably is what is going to happen, you're sort of trying to decide what a puzzle looks like when you've only got one of the pieces, or two of the pieces, and you don't have the other hundred or thousand pieces."