Professional and scholastic sports will essentially become like NASCAR, with the human body regulated the way stock cars are. The often-hypocritical stigma against self-optimization in sports will disappear as the ability to improve one’s own genetic makeup goes mainstream, thanks to gene-editing technologies like CRISPR. Safe and detectable drugs that boost key physiological factors to specific, pre-determined amounts will be legal and will level the playing field for all. Success will be determined more by character, teamwork, strategy, and the mental edge than by the genetic lottery. In this sense, sports will become a purer test than we have today.
The first step in manipulating the genome — sequencing it — is accelerating along a cost/power curve that makes Moore’s Law look slow by comparison.
CRISPR, a breakthrough gene-editing system, makes it possible to selectively alter biological traits.
Gradual acceptance of so-called do-it-yourself biology grows as previously unavailable therapeutic uses for gene alteration become commonplace, and the line between nutrition and enhancement continues to blur.
Every Olympic sprinter and weightlifter already carries this allele.
Increases red blood cell count, thus boosting oxygen deliver 25-50% and providing Olympian endurance.
Allows you to climb 8,000-meter peaks without oxygen.
Blocks pain pathways in nerves, allowing athletes to play through pain.
When this gene is deactivated, the body grows double the muscle mass.
Helps the body burn fatty acid for energy and produces no lactic acid so that athletes can run at top speed for 60% longer.
TNC & COL5A1
Determines whether the body is susceptible to tendon and ligament injury.
Creates “unbreakable” bones by increasing skeletal density.
Uneven Playing Field “Gene doping” — in one-time-use virus form — will alter athletes’ DNA expression; essentially invisible to detection, it will erode the implicit promise that the game has not been rigged.
Legal, safe, and identifiable ways to provide physiological advantages will be far more beneficial and impactful than current sports-doping methods.
10,000 Hours Is now a Pill The AICAR drug boosts mitochondria production in muscle cells, which will allow sedentary people to run like they’ve been training their whole lives.
AICAR’s usage is easily detected in the bloodstream, and if it’s truly safe, this drug should — and will — be used by everyone to prevent obesity and diabetes.
Genetic engineering techniques are now cheap and widespread enough that any knowledgeable individual can order every material they need off the Internet and download the software to do their own experiments on themselves. Everyone in citizen science and the biohacker community has stories of being contacted by trainers, coaches, and athletes. There is absolutely no way to regulate it, and if you tried to it would be like stemming the tide with a fork.
Biotechnology & Bioinformatics Chair, Singularity University
In 5 years, we will see the first national sports federations looking for EpoR mutations in families, and encouraging their participation in endurance sports. Uzbekistan’s Olympic Committee has already announced it is doing genetic testing on kids, but they will likely get it wrong. China will lead the way with genetic screening. They just have less cultural recoil at the idea.
Author Of The Sports Gene
Early Identification Is Already Here
China already screens out youth divers at ages five to eight if their elbows can’t touch above their head.
Science will soon cause a reversal in youth specialization. Children will remain all-around athletes until post-puberty, then be informed which sport they are most physiologically suited for. This is what Australia already does.
The Future Of Injury Recovery: Part Frankenstein, Part Einstein
By converting skin cells into stem cells, then spraying stem cells onto natural collagen scaffolds, we have already regrown ears, tracheas, and bladders — and successfully transplanted them back into humans. To restate: this is not the future. It’s already happening.
Meanwhile, “fracture putty” has been invented and is being tested in humans. Broken bones heal in days, not weeks, thanks to a needle injection of stem cells and platelets into bone fractures.
Where is this headed in 20 years? The line between artificial body parts and natural ones will gradually blur as medical scientists converge on how to rebuild humans — first for injury recovery, then for life extension, and eventually for enhancement.
Materials Technology Deserves More Credit
According to David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, if Jesse Owens were teleported out of the 1936 Berlin Olympics and into today’s world championships of the 100-meters, he would finish second behind Usain Bolt. The reason? Because back in 1936, when Owens ran it in 10.2 seconds, he did so on soft cinders and trowel-dug starting blocks. If he were racing on today’s track surfaces, using modern starting blocks, he would finish a half-second faster. Racetrack surfaces have had a far bigger impact on sprint records than human improvements. Humans are not actually faster (well, one is). We just seem faster thanks to the track.
In the same way, special contact lenses already give baseball players 20/8 eyesight — improving their batting averages significantly. Football receivers’ gloves are so sticky they turn the game into a magic show. Speed-skating ice is demineralized and sprayed on, a single mist layer at a time. Low-friction swimsuits shattered world records so quickly they were outlawed — but the invention of gutters on the sides of the pool that prevented splashback made just as much of a difference. Most of these technological advancements are considered perfectly legal; it’s only when they abruptly change the game (as with the swimsuits) that we declare them illegal.
Now imagine turf football fields designed to help every receiver hit 22+ miles per hour on a route. Imagine spring-loaded, carbon-fibre basketball floors that add six more inches to players’ vertical leap than they have today.
Predicting the Future
Sports continue to stumble as new cases of doping undermine fan interest. Regulators promise detection systems they can’t deliver. Fan attention gravitates to athletes who succeed because of their mental edge, since physical advantages become increasingly suspect.
An obsession with athletic pedigrees leads to a fad of genetic screening at early ages, whereby the vast majority of children are told they have no chance at a professional, collegiate, or scholastic sports career before they even hit kindergarten. Eventually this categorical denial of hope becomes socially unacceptable. It’s also bad for business; today’s kids are tomorrow’s fans.
Athletes are first allowed to use genetic enhancements for injury prevention and safety. But as non-professional athletes and medical patients enjoy the benefits of these new treatments, we finally start letting professional athletes use the performance enhancers up to a predetermined, safe level.
Natural & Enhanced Athletes
Future sports won’t be a battle of humans vs. robots. There will be natural athletes, and there will be enhanced athletes. They will play in separate leagues, the same way today we have amateur collegiate leagues and professional leagues. But there will be a Super Bowl. Who wouldn’t pay to see if natural-born humans can beat ones we “perfected” in the lab?