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DNA swab tests kids’ athletic ability

Nov 13, 2011 8:11am
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(NECN/CNN: John Lauristen, St. Louis Park, Minn.) - Shjon Podein is the St. Louis Park boys' hockey coach. He spends time working with his 5-year-old son, Junior, and his 8-year-old daughter, Anna. Like any parent of two young kids, he wonders what their future holds.

"They are involved in five or six different sports and they're just are loving being kids and playing. It's just fun to watch," Podein says.

Podein would also like to know what sport they would have the most success in. If it isn't hockey could it be football, basketball, soccer or tennis?  That's where Atlas Sports Genetics comes into play. 

Atlas is based in Boulder, Colorado. For $160 per child, they send a kit with instructions on how to get a DNA swab.  

The swabs are sent to Atlas, then to a lab in Australia. 

The company is looking for something called the ACTN-three gene, which is responsible for fast-twitch explosive muscles.

"It's really just a tool in a tool box of an athlete to analyze a scenario," says Nat Carruthers, President of Operations.

It's all about sports science.  If one doesn't have a lot of ACTN-three, one may be better suited for endurance sports, like cycling and swimming.

A little bit of ACTN-three means one is a mixed-pattern athlete with strength and endurance, and one has potential in just about any sport.

That was Anna.

"They kind of hit it on the head with her," says Podein.

"She just likes to do a lot of different things. She's not the fastest and she's not the slowest, and she doesn't burn out the quickest and she doesn't last the longest."

The third and final category is strength and power.  When one falls under this category, it means one has a lot of ACTN-three in the body.

And that was Junior. 

According to Atlas' results, football, rugby, wrestling, and even power lifting are sports in which Junior could excel. Ice hockey is on the list, but is considered more of a mixed-pattern sport. 

"I just see a kid who bounds around like a kangaroo and has limitless energy, but after he gets half a block down, he falls down because he's so tired. Obviously they know what they're talking about because they kind of have him pegged from the scientific side," Podein says.  

But even after all this, Atlas admits this doesn't mean a kid won't succeed at a sport they like even if it doesn't fit their genetic code.

Because of that, some skeptics have called this snake oil. Atlas calls it science and a head start.

"We hope they use it to highlight ways they can train different or it inspires them in a different way as opposed to simply locking them into a single sport," says Carruthers.

That's exactly what Shjon Podein hopes his kids will do. He doesn't care if they don't follow in his skates, but he also knows if they work hard they may end up even better than their old man. 

"I'm a pretty open-minded kind of guy and keep all doors open because you never know which one can give you education that can help your kids go into a direction that gives them confidence. Not just in sports, but in life," says Podein.

It takes a few weeks for the Atlas results to get back to customers.

But the company says it wants to stress that exercise, coaching, practicing, and nutrition are major factors in becoming a star athlete.
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