Friday, July 3, 2020
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Purple & black are in your genes. What else is?

Fans who show up for Sunday’s NFL game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium will experience a new type of free giveaway, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Enter the Ravens, Oct. 2014 (Keith Allison / Flickr CC)

The Boston-based biotech firm Orig3n will be handing out free kits that will allow fans to swab the DNA off of their cheek, deposit the swab in a bin at the stadium, and register online with the company in order to receive a report of their genes.

Some bit of controversy has always surrounded direct-to-consumer DNA testing, and before the FDA limited the practice before Obamacare, you used to be able to find out if your genes contained various markers, such as segments that would make you more susceptible to diseases like breast cancer, heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes, and so on. But genetics really just predisposes a person to certain medical conditions, and science is far from complete.

“It can be very useful, but in many other cases we just don’t know enough,” the Sun quoted Alan Shuldiner, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, as saying about the DNA test kits fans will receive. “I think it can be very deceptive. I sometimes call it snake oil genomics.”

Snake oil genomics

The phrase would appear to be an oxymoron, but then again, Orig3n isn’t going to report your entire genome for free. More extensive testing can be provided for about $150 for anyone interested in finding out more.

This free test will reportedly look at four genes, although the Sun only reported the first two. The others may also be related to strength, and I list them here because Orig3n offers a test for these genes in its least expensive test, a $30 “superhero” package:

  • ACTN3 (could predispose one to enhanced sprinting performance)
  • VDR (a gene that codes for a Vitamin D receptor in muscles)
  • SOST (possibly related to bone strength)
  • ACE (possibly related to cardiac output)

Some studies have found that variants of the VDR gene, for example, gave people a muscle strength advantage, particularly in the quadriceps muscle, although at least one study, republished by the National Institutes of Health, says there’s still much we don’t know about how Vitamin D receptor genes affect our overall muscle strength.

Important note: The FDA requires that Orig3n come clean about the test it’s offering. The company should provide, with the encrypted results sent to customers’ smartphones, a statement that includes at least an explanation that the test is “not intended for use as an indication of any medical condition” and that it can’t be “used as a diagnostic tool.”

That’s required, because insurance companies used to deny coverage to people who had bad genes on the grounds they had a “pre-existing” condition. Obamacare ended the pre-existing conditions in our insurance code, but companies like Orig3n still have to follow those guidelines.

Anyway, free giveaways are very popular with NFL fans, and a genetic test, even though science isn’t able to make any reliable predictions from the genetics in the way Orig3n’s PR material seems to suggest, could very likely beat a bobblehead. (The Ravens will also be giving out free lanyards to fans at the game. Let us know which you prefer.)

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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