Cancer-Causing Gene in Red Meat and Fish Identified

Cancer-Causing Gene in Red Meat and Fish Identified
iStock/GMVozd

Red meat’s connection to cancer is real, according to research from the University of Nevada, Reno. Scientists claim they’ve identified a type of gene found in livestock animals and some fish species that makes them potential carcinogens.

The research, published in the recent issue of the journal Genome Biology and Evolution, is the first of its kind to identify the CMAH gene, which allows the synthesis of a specific type of sugar called Neu5Gc found in meat, dairy, and some fish consumed by humans. The CMAH gene can lead to an inflammatory response in humans, and that inflammation is what the researchers believe leads to an increased risk of certain types of tumors as well as cardiovascular disease.

According to the researchers, little research has been done on fish species to determine cancer risk factors from the CMAH gene.  “Our analyzes show that there are fish that have the CMAH gene and others that do not, but for the moment the Neu5Gc sugar has been measured in very few of them. In fish that do have this gene, sugar is found in very small proportions in their meat, but in high quantities in caviar. This may be because the gene is expressed specifically in eggs or oviducts,” says the scientist.

“It turns out that caviar, one of the most expensive meals in the world, is also one of the products with the highest concentrations of Neu5Gc,” says Sateesh Peri, a student at the Alvarez-Ponce laboratory.

While the researchers noted that poultry don’t appear to carry the CMAH gene, there are still risks involved in consuming these animals — from foodborne illnesses like salmonella and e. Coli, to cancer risks from the synthetic chemicals and growth hormones used in raising conventional livestock.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.