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In a league of their own: football clubs commission genetic profiles of players

Two Barclays Premier League clubs have commissioned genetic profiles of their players to identify their strengths and potential weaknesses, it can be revealed.

The clubs signed a deal this season with a personal genetics company to provide DNA profiles of both senior and academy players.

The profiles, obtained via a simple mouth swab, disclose the players' balance of speed and endurance genes, whether they have injury-prone genes and the best nutrition to fit their DNA.

The company, DNAFit, is also working with a leading European team but insists all three clubs' identities must remain confidential.

It has confirmed, however, that it is working with Britain's 800m runner Jenny Meadows, a bronze medallist at the 2009 world championships and 2011 European indoor champion.

The whole issue of genes in sport has become controversial after the World Anti-Doping Agency banned gene doping.

But Keith Grimaldi, DNAFit's chief scientific officer, said the profiles merely enable experts to identify certain genes which make athletes prone to specific injuries, the right kind of nutrition for individual sports people, and to provide an exact breakdown of their proportion of 'power' or 'endurance' genes.

Grimaldi said however that there was no 'Lionel Messi gene' identifiable which suggested a person had a talent for football.

He told Press Association Sport: "We are not going to turn a fourth division footballer into a Premiership player but it is going to make small but important differences which could make an impact long term.

"When the England team go to Brazil we could know in advance who has a very high risk of sunstroke or sunburn, who has a very low risk, and who is in between. That is useful information and it is far better to know it than not.

"We believe the profiling can help with personalising the training - we look at about 15 genes associated with power and endurance and we see very wide range among footballers.

"Some are fast over short distances while an endurance footballer is able to cover every blade on the pitch. That may be obvious anyway, but it can help tailor training for the individual player.

"Genetic profiling is also is useful to identify those with a higher than average injury risk - there is a genetic component to tendon injuries and training regimes can counter this."

The other area is nutrition, and Grimaldi said DNA profiling had been able to help some footballers who struggle with losing weight because they have a gene which affects the absorption of fats.

Meadows, 32, who is targeting Commonwealth and European medals this year, is using the DNA information in her training but said she wished she had had the benefit of genetic profile at the start of her career.

The athlete has discovered she has the gene that makes her prone to tendon injury, and it was an Achilles problem that saw her miss the London 2012 Olympics.

She told Press Association Sport: "I do feel a little bit gutted that the technology has only become available now.

"In the last two years I have had two major injuries, and it was an Achilles injury that kept me out of the London 2012 Olympics.

"The DNA profile does show I am prone to tendon injuries which I didn't really know, so maybe I could have changed things in my training. Instead of going out running on the road maybe I would have done more cross-training or work in the pool."

Meadows also believes she would have concentrated on the 800m earlier instead of combining it with 400m running.

She added: "The thing that really staggered me was to be exactly 50 per cent speed and 50 per cent endurance, which is absolutely perfect for an 800m runner and perhaps if I had known this I would have concentrated on the 800m a few years earlier instead of pursuing 400m as well.

"Nutrition is going to be the big thing for me because I have to admit my nutrition is not the best - I don't particularly like eating large amounts of fruit and vegetables, so I am hoping the genetic profile will give me clearer guidance of what I can and can't eat."

There have been reports that scientists in Uzbekistan are planning to use genetics to spot future Olympic champions among children, but Grimaldi said that "a stopwatch would be more useful" as a first indicator, and that environment played a huge role in athletes' development.

He added: "There are some companies making some really wild claims - one in the USA had an advert saying 'imagine you could find out what sports your child could excel at before they can walk. Now you can'.

"We don't believe there is any evidence that genetics can be used to select a sport."

DNAFit is also due to announce on Monday that it is involved with a study of 80 athletes at Manchester University.

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