Red Meat Linked to Dangerous Bacteria

    UCSD School of Medicine professor of cellular and molecular medicine Ajit Varki, M.D., is part of an international team of researchers that recently published findings linking the consumption of red meat to food-poisoning bacteria.

    Published in an advanced issue of Nature, the researchers discovered that a potent bacterial toxin called subtilase cytotoxin specifically targets human cells that have a nonhuman, cellular molecule on their surface — typically absorbed into the body through red meat.

    The targeted molecule, called N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), is not produced naturally in humans, but can arise through the consumption of contaminated red meat. Very low or undetectable levels of Neu5Gc are found in fruits, vegetables, eggs, poultry and fish.

    If produced by certain strands of E. Coli bacteria, infection can result in bloody diarrhea aemolytic uraemic syndrome, potentially fatal in humans.

    “Ironically, humans may set themselves up for an increased risk of illness from this kind of E. coli bacteria present in contaminated red meat or dairy, because these very same products have high-levels of Neu5Gc,” Varki said. “The Neu5Gc molecule is absorbed into the body, making it a target for the toxin produced by E. coli.”

    To prevent contamination, the study emphasized the importance of only eating well-cooked meat or pasteurized dairy products, ensuring the destruction of contaminated bacteria.

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