The Potential Of Gene Doping In Sports

Growing up, every child dreams of being stronger, faster, and taller, modeling alongside heroes such as Superman, The Flash, and others. The love of superheroes in comic books and many movies shows that fascination of superpowers among people. The advent of new genetic engineering technologies as well as techniques including CRISPR increases the possibility of achieving the unachievable ‘super’ speed among human beings. Besides the possibility of being distinct, it is fascinating. Gene doping is one of the most worrying uses of molecular technology in the sporting industry. Gene doping defines the outgrowth of gene therapy. Processes in gene doping include replacing a missing, under-performing, or malfunctioning gene and gene fragment with a functioning one.

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Replacement takes place courtesy of a transfectable tool including a virus. Usually, the focus in gene doping is on the genetic material used in improving the athleticism of an athlete. The position taken by WADA (world anti-doping agency) defines gene doping as ‘nontherapeutic use of cells, genes, genetic elements, or modulation of gene expression, having the capacity to enhance performance’. Progressively, various researchers continue to inject various types of genes to model creatures including mice. However, medical practitioners and health bodies still have reservations on the safety of applying the same to humans.

Overview and Functions of ACTN3

A popular gene, ACTN3 influences the composition of muscle fiber highly and is found in everybody. However, three types of people exist based on genotypes namely, RR, XX, and RX. Usually, ACTN3 functions during production of alpha-actinin-3, a molecular protein located in fast twitch muscle fibers called IIA at IIX. According to scientific research, people with XX genotypes have less alpha-actinin-3 protein hence, cannot produce the ACTN3 protein. Instead, the produce the ACTN2 type of protein, which increases the capacity to endure. It provides the point of departure between sprinters such as Jamaicans and long distance gurus such as Kenyans.

The difference in the performance of ACTN3 among sprinters and long distance runners. Research shows that running over long distance (marathon) might be in the genes of specialist athletes. Genetic mutation in ACTN3 boosts the endurance of muscles. The condition is common among certain human populations. Rapid force generation is a factor of alpa-actinin-3 protein made by fast fibers. People with low levels of mutations in the genes cannot endure long distances hence end up becoming sprinters. On the other hand, marathoners have higher frequencies of mutation sin this gene whereas sprinters have lower levels.

Crispr Technology Among Athletes

Clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) approach offers scientists with an enhanced capacity to edit the genome of an organism. The new gene editing technology helps medical practitioners and other scientists to alter endogenous genes using the CRISPR-Cas9 system. CRISPR will increase getting the targeted gene efficient resulting in gene expression. A branch of science called sports genomics takes care of genetic endowment among athletes. According to sports scientists, many units (single) nucleotide polymorphisms abbreviated as SNPs influence gene regulation. Therefore, they affect the performance of athletes.

The field of sports science holds that more than 250 SNPs relate to the performance of athletes. For instance, salpha-actinin-3 (ACTN3) is a gene among athletes easy to code using CRISPR technology considering that it is an actin protein within the muscles. Wild type is the common form of ACTN3 and is expressed in fast twitching muscle fibers. The process gives athletes enhanced the power to withstand high speed because of hitherto power phenotype. C>T transition is a gene that contains polymorphism and modifies the number assigned to the amino acid through mutation resistant to sensing devices as well as the structure of the protein. Additionally, arginine (R) undergoes modification making it easy to stop codon (X) while at position number 577. The muscles attain the capacity to sustain high speed because of the enhanced endurance phenotype received from the polymorphic variant.

CRISPR-CAs 9 strategy, for instance, makes it possible for cheaters to modify the endurance genome in athletes as well as the power phenotype by carrying out operations on the T or C allele within the specific area of interest. The procedure is not only possible in ACTN3, but in all the genes that involve the endurance phenotype as well. Such genes include among others MSTN, PPAR-Alpha, IL6, and MCT1. The listed endurance phenotypes types fall within the range of genes that scientists and medical practitioners state to be susceptible to modification. Cheaters in sports are likely to take advantage of the possibility to establish more gene dopers.

Doubters hold that CRISPR technology can create a super athlete because of other important factors including training, the environment, and complex interactions of several processes under the regulation of many genes. However, the fact remains that the technology can modify the genome of a sportsperson without any detection using current testing methods. It provides the easiest approach to cheat in athletics genetically. Currently, the possibility lies in editing myostatin and erythropoietin (EPOR). They are isolated genes with a major influence on endurance in sports. Naturally, the EPOR hormone develops in the human body and catalyzes the production of red blood cells. Scientifically, it is possible to manufacture and inject EPOR into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it increases the performance of an athlete. Since its detection in the 1980s, it continues to be used by professionals in cycling.

Success in developing testing mechanisms led to a major decrease in the use of EPOR to enhance endurance among athletes. However, the process of altering the EPOR gene takes a different approach that WADA cannot detect. Scientists aver that EPOR genes have essential mutations. Importantly, increasing the supply of red blood cells increases the supply of oxygen to the cells, which increases endurance. It eliminates the possibility of health issues among athletes because of the lack of opportunity for anaerobic respiration. Already, it is possible to carry out the process using CRISPR technology increasing the nightmare for regulatory bodies. The MSTN gene is another candidate-gene for genetic editing. MSTN codes for another protein gene called myostatin.

Conclusion

Based on the provided facts, scientists and other players in the medical field should establish other sophisticated means of detecting genomes edited using the CRISPR technology. The adventure appears the most difficult steeple for doctors and other sports scientists to chase. However, the case is different for those doping for hope using CRISPR technology. Those succeeding to cheat using the technology have the advantage of living life free of stress because the technology to detect is not possible in the near future. When the technology for detection is ready, they will receive punishment in equal measure to blood dopers and chemical dopers. As discussed herein, CRISPR technology carries the potential for being a good force as well as a hindrance to fairness in sports. On the good side, it could result in successes in curing cystic fibrosis among others whereas, on the negative front, it would create a super athlete.

14 May 2021

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