Sunday, 3 June 2012

Gene Detection


Hi, I’m Nikki Rezk and on newscientist.com I found an article named “Blood Tests Won’t Stop Gene Cheats,” written by Andy Coghlan. The article was released recently and discusses the discovery of muscle-boosting genes that, if used by athletes for the purpose of performance enhancement, would be undetectable in both blood and urine tests. This is alarming as it opens a whole new window in the sport industry, by which professional athletes may be able to cheat their way to the top, by implementing genes to illicitly and unethically strengthen their muscles. An investigation into gene doping, carried out on lab mice, was found to show that the process could dramatically strengthen the muscles, and consequently improve the athletic performance, of these mice without it being detected in blood or urine tests.

Mauro Giacca, a scientist from a genetic engineering centre in Italy, undertook this investigation. Giacca was commissioned to perform this research by the Word Anti-Doping Agency in preparation for the Olympics, due to the startling discovery of gene doping. Specific muscle-boosting genes such as IGF-1 were thought to make muscles grow rapidly and work far more efficiently. Giacca tested the effects of this gene on two test mice groups. He had to inject the mice with a virus for the gene to implant into their muscle cells. So both teams were injected with the virus, but only one with the muscle-boosting gene. The physical ability of both teams was tested, and it was found that the doped mice swam 3 times the distance of that of the control group. Also, a muscle autopsy was done on the mice, which showed that the IGF-1 gene triggered 10 times the normal protein production rate in the muscles. Both the gene and the virus were detected in the muscle autopsy, but it was found that the virus, the gene and the protein that was produced was nowhere to be found in the blood and urine tests. These staggering results show that there may be a method whereby humans, including athletes may gene dope their muscles to improve physical performance and there would be no way of detecting it!

Fortunately, implanting muscle-boosting genes is still very complicated and technically challenging; so it is highly doubtful that athletes will use illicit gene implantation in the near future. Unfortunately, muscle biopsies cannot be done on athletes before competitions, as it is unwarranted and unethical, being a very physically straining operation that would impact on athletic performance. Scientists are now struggling and researching to find ways that these genes can be detected in blood or urine samples, so that high profile sport competitions, such as the Olympics can remain fair and ethical for all competitors. 

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