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In 1998, the press jumped on H. Lee Sweeney's first study showing that gene therapy could enhance mouse muscle. Soon, the calls and e-mails started flowing in, first as a trickle, then as if from a fire hose. They're still coming, Sweeney says. Some people beg him to reverse their muscle degeneration caused by disease or aging. However, about half of the calls and e-mails come from healthy individuals_professional power lifters, sprinters, and weekend wannabe athletes of all stripes. They want bigger, higher-performing muscles. One caller offered $100,000 for muscle enhancement, and a high school football coach asked Sweeney to treat his whole team.

The requests from healthy athletes "really caught me off guard," says Sweeney, a physiology professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. His goal had been to stave off the muscle wasting that comes with muscle dystrophy and just plain aging.

Now, Sweeney finds himself in the middle of what could become the sports world's next serious dilemma: Should gene enhancement, or doping, be permissible for athletes attempting to improve their performance? And if not, how...