Dodging fate’s plan

Genetically inherited diseases can be fought

By Denis Ponkratov

If a genetic disposition to illness is revealed in the early years, then we have the chance to tackle it. For example, on discovering a gene linked to heart problems, we can alter our lifestyle to avoid future illness: not smoking and exercising sensibly. In turn, we can deter diabetes if we avoid sugars.

Discovering our genetic disposition by analysing our DNA sounds futuristic but the Centre for DNA Biotechnology’s Human Genetics Laboratory at the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Genetics and Cytology is already working in this field. It is the only one of its kind in Belarus, accredited in researching genetic disposition. “A person can change a great deal on discovering their ‘genetic passport’,” asserts Doctor of Biological Sciences Irma Mosse, who heads the laboratory. “We can use and develop our potential capabilities, while choosing a job suited to our disposition and correcting our lifestyle to account for genetic risks. Additionally, we can avoid giving birth to children with similar genetic defects.”

She explains, “DNA diagnostics of a person’s genome is, no doubt, essential for the individual and for the medical institution which oversees him. We know which genes influence the locomotor system, endurance, power, speed and the body’s ability to restore itself after physical exertion. Accordingly, we can reveal the future sporting capabilities of any child, significantly improving our methods of selecting promising athletes; we can even see which disciplines they are best suited to. This is why our laboratory is also conducting studies into sport genetics.”

DNA testing can clearly help define how far someone is disposed to certain sports as well as their disposition to illness or injury as a result of excessive physical training. Accordingly, geneticists believe that sports and training sessions should be designed to suit each individual.

The DNA Biotechnologies Centre was recently addressed by Belarus’ national Olympic biathlon team, with the request to test its athletes on their predetermination to hypoxia (as many international competitions are held at high altitudes). Having analysed the genome of each team member (looking at 12 molecular markers) the scientists realised that the athletes’ ability to avoid hypoxia was much better than that observed in most ordinary people. At the same time, some members had a disposition which has enabled doctors and coaches to prepare specific training sessions to help them cope with physical exertion. Additionally, tailored medicine and nutrition has been outlined.

The laboratory has now joined the Republican Centre of Sports Medicine in developing programmes for the selection of athletes for each sport. DNA technologies are to act as the scientific basis not only for selecting a sport but also for planning the long-term training of our future athletes, from childhood.

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