The Indian Cricket Team's Genetic Testing Experience
The realization that DNA testing has a tremendous impact on sports performance is only beginning to happen. It has been recognized for ages that physical attributes such as eye color, hair color, height, etc are inherited, however, the impact of genetics on physiology and physical performance has been vastly underappreciated. Though humans have been breeding racehorses for speed and cows for milk yield and other plants and animals for centuries, the same parallels are not applied to human performance and genetic selection. Rather, the view that nurture is far more impactful than nature (genetics), prevails. The fact is that nature and nurture both are critical at the elite level. Hence genetic testing can help appropriately nurture, what nature has bestowed.
Here are a set of facts that will make you question this prevailing belief:
- Women who have a Y chromosome make up less than 20,000 in number. They are insensitive to testosterone and hence develop as females. While testing female competitors from over 5 Olympics it was found that 1 in every 421 of them had a Y chromosome.
- 32 members of the Kalenjin tribe in Kenya ran a marathon faster than 2 hours and 10 minutes in October 2011, compared to 17 men who achieved the same feat in the whole of American history.
- The serving arms of tennis players have forearm bones a quarter of an inch longer than the forearm bones of the other arm.
- Legendary marathoner Paula Radcliffe has a smaller skin area hampering her heat dissipating capacity. This is why she typically failed during summer marathons (2004, 2008 Olympics).
- Croatian Water Polo players’ arm's length is more than an inch, 5 times more than that of the Croatian general population.
Genetics has a vast impact on every possible manifestation of your biology from the color of your eye to your sporting abilities. Retired Formula One champion Nico Rosberg said that he owed 66% of his success to genetics and 33% to nurturing. The BCCI announced yesterday that DNA testing for Indian cricketers has been introduced to complement their training program. This is indeed a welcome development that will do wonders for individual performance if harnessed appropriately. Here is a comparative analysis of the top 5 fitness DNA testing companies.
DNA testing for elite sportspeople, that was first introduced for their players by the NBA, involves extracting the DNA from a sample. The DNA thus extracted is either sequenced or genotyped for a set of genes. All genes have more than one forms. This is why though all of us are engineered similarly we differ tremendously from our blood type to our hair color. Similarly, as per your genes, you may be more inclined to power sports like weightlifting than sports that involve endurance capabilities like tennis and running marathons. DNA testing makes a lot of sense in cricket because a variety of qualities a player is required to have. For example each of the 11 players bat, bowl, and field as and when required. Spending long hours in extreme weather conditions fielding may be easier for an endurance player, whereas batting and bowling require sudden energy shots that is easier for a power player. It is easier to strike a balance when you know exactly how you are made. Based on this information all external factors like diet, sleep habits, the kind of exercises to add to your routine.
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Key genetic attributes in Cricket that can be influenced by DNA testing:
Batting: Power, endurance (long innings and running between wickets), Neuro-Motor coordination, vision, depth perception, eye frame rate, reaction time
Bowling: Power (pace), Stiffness (for sprinting and throwing), high lactate threshold, flexibility (range of motion) for smooth action, cardiovascular fitness, aerobic capacity, high red blood cell count, low surface to volume ratio- slender limbs and torso (low air resistance)
Fielding: sprinting, cardiovascular fitness, endurance, higher water retention (during prolonged exposure to heat), vision, depth perception and reaction time.
In BCCI’s recent announcement, they mentioned testing for 40 genes related to fitness, diet, and health for their players. Xcode Life screens for more than 500 genetic markers for fitness and nutrition. When it comes to the fitness of international elite player it is not just strength and stamina that comes into play. Traits like flexibility, the likelihood of injury, recovery from injuries and aerobic capacity play a major part. Similarly, when it comes to the diet, it is not just your food choices. How well you respond to macronutrients and your various mineral and vitamin requirement are significant in terms of both short-term and long-term benefits. All of these cannot be covered by 40 genes.
Xcode Life’ DNA test for diet, fitness, and health covers more than 500 genetic markers and a wide range of traits.