Letter to Metro Morning about Gene Doping

Sent this to Metro Morning today after I woke up to a discussion of the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball.

Metro Morning is Toronto’s top-rated morning radio show, hosted by Andy Barrie. While the discussion was interesting, I think the assumption was that the future is farther off than it actually is…


Dear Mr. Barrie –

I listened with great interest to your discussion Friday morning with Scott Regher and Michael Hlinka about the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball. However, I think your contention that genetic modification of athletes—so-called ‘gene doping’—will be common “in fifteen years” is a little optimistic. I can assure you that the future is now.

Experts believe that athletes at the Beijing Olympics this coming summer will be amongst the first who have undergone gene alteration to enhance their performance. Far from a sci-fi dream, the technology for gene doping—modifying an athlete’s own genome by inserting specific high-performance genes targeted at performance enhancement—already exists and is widely available. It is the same process currently used for gene therapy in hospitals around the world.

I am an award-winning science fiction author, and as is the case in my latest story, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” in the new Canadian anthology Tesseracts Eleven, the difficulty with gene doping is in the detection. Unlike steroids, growth hormone, or blood doping there are no telltale byproducts of metabolism that can be tested for. The delivery system for most gene therapy is a modified virus—the common cold. And unless we have a pre-modified copy of an athlete’s genome to compare against it will be almost impossible to determine whether a homerun champion or gold medal winner has been altered for enhanced performance.

After all, you can hardly disqualify someone for having a cold, can you?

Best wishes,

Stephen Kotowych
Winner of the 2007 Writers of the Future Grand Prize