Published on: December 5, 2008
One of my favorite products during the past few years was the at-home DNA testing kit that allows people to fill out a questionnaire, swab the inside of their cheeks, and then have their DNA analyzed to find out what diseases or conditions they might be predisposed to get. This strikes me as a smart use of technology, as well as a great tool for the food industry – stores can actually help people choose foods that are appropriate for their genetic conditions. Lunds and Byerly’s were doing this a couple of years ago…and I thought it was very savvy.
I am less impressed, however, with the way similar technology is being used by another company. Here’s how the New York Times
“In health-conscious, sports-oriented Boulder, Atlas Sports Genetics is playing into the obsessions of parents by offering a $149 test that aims to predict a child’s natural athletic strengths. The process is simple. Swab inside the child’s cheek and along the gums to collect DNA and return it to a lab for analysis of ACTN3, one gene among more than 20,000 in the human genome.
“The test’s goal is to determine whether a person would be best at speed and power sports like sprinting or football, or endurance sports like distance running, or a combination of the two. A 2003 study discovered the link between ACTN3 and those athletic abilities.
“In this era of genetic testing, DNA is being analyzed to determine predispositions to disease, but experts raise serious questions about marketing it as a first step in finding a child’s sports niche, which some parents consider the road to a college scholarship or a career as a professional athlete.”
Now, there is some debate in scientific circles as to the accuracy of this test, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping parents from plopping down their $149 – even in recessionary times, that seems to be a small price to pay to find out whether there might be an athletic scholarship in their futures.
It is when I read stories like these that I begin to think that I am hopelessly old-fashioned. My kids have gotten involved with athletics – or chosen not to get involved – based on whether they wanted to, or enjoyed it. Not based on my dreams for athletic scholarships, nor on my desire to live out my own fantasies through my kids.
This isn’t a matter of science run amok as much as it is a story about parents who have completely lost touch with any sense of reasonable priorities; I’m sure that the entrepreneurs at Atlas Sports Genetics figured that they would have a ready and gullible customer base for their product.
This may seem radical, but here’s my suggestion for parents who are desperate for their kids to get college scholarships. Take away the kids’ cell phones and iPods and videogames and assorted other distractions, and make sure they study more.
One other thought. Parents who make their kids take this test better put some extra money aside. Because if they start to put pressure on their kids to get that athletic scholarship, with the added pressure of knowing that their kids are genetically capable of getting one, they’re going to end up spending a lot of money on psychiatrists and psychologists.
Because a lot of these kids are going to be very screwed up. Almost as screwed up as their parents.
When it comes to matters of science, I was intrigued to read the Wall Street Journal
story the other day about declining brain function in aging baby boomers, and how it is creating greater problems than ever in a modern, multi-tasking culture.
“As scientists document the normal brain changes at fault, they are highlighting a growing conflict between the push-me-pull-you demands of modern multitasking and our waning powers of concentration,” the Journal
wrote. “By one estimate, the average office worker is interrupted every three minutes. Indeed, our inability to ignore irrelevant intrusions as we grow older may arise from a basic breakdown of internal brain communications involving memory, attention span and mental focus starting in middle age, researchers have discovered.”
The problem is that even though scientists can understand this, there isn’t much they can do about it: “Our brains normally shrink as we age -- a man's faster than a woman's -- affecting regions associated with learning and memory. Many genes linked to brain function in the prefrontal cortex also become less active, affecting how deftly we can orchestrate thoughts and actions.” What can we do? “To keep mentally fit, a generation of aging gym rats has embraced the cognitive calisthenics of computerized brain exercises. Not all mental gymnastics or herbal supplements work as advertised, but proper diet, cardiovascular exercise and formal education do stave off mental decline, according to new research.”
concludes that “by the time we reach age 65 or more, one fourth of us may be wrestling with a failing memory and other mild cognitive problems.”
I was going to comment on this, but for the life of me I can't remember what I was going to say…
I hope you had a good Thanksgiving. In the Coupe household, we had the best Thanksgiving that we can remember…even better than last year, which until last week ranked as the best ever.
Once again, we went as a family to Chicago to visit our eldest son, David, who is finishing up his senior year at Columbia College there. (These plans were made and paid for before the economy went into the toilet. Thank goodness for Priceline.)
(Brief commercial announcement here. David is an aspiring actor and writer, and is looking for work. If you have anything you think might be appropriate for a handsome, talented young man with charm to spare, I’m happy to have him call you.)
But I digress…
There is nothing like going away with your family for Thanksgiving, I’ve discovered. First of all, we eat out. Which means steak for everyone (since nobody likes turkey very much), and nobody has to do the dishes. And it means quality time with no distractions, which as the kinds get older becomes harder and harder to come by. (Well, some distractions…but the good kind that Chicago has to offer. What a terrific city…and we even looked at some loft apartments on the off-chance that someday we decide to move MNB
World Headquarters there…)
Maybe I’m just getting old and sentimental, but for the second year in a row, it was nice to be reminded how much I treasure these people.
Three wines to recommend this week, all tasted at the always dependable and delightful Bin 36 in Chicago:
• 2007 Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Gris bland from California’s Vision Cellars, which was perfect with an appetizer of hummus with tomato and garlic.
• 2006 Cinsault/Cabernet/Syrah blend from Massaya Classic, a winery in Lebanon. This was wonderfully lush…and I’d never had a wine from Lebanon nor the grape Cinsault before, so it was a learning experience.
• 2006 Shiraz from Australia’s Wishing Tree vineyard, which is full bodied, spicy, and really, really good.
That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.