New research may contribute to the infrastructure of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics, the study of how foods correspond with your genes in relation to the acquirement of specific diseases; and with how your genes could be affected by the foods and food components you ingest.

The University of Nevada at Reno recently conducted a clinical study on a gene, known as CMAH. Just in case you’re dying to know, CMAH is short for cytidine monophospho-N-acetylneuraminic acid hydroxylasemajor props if you’re the kid in class who can recite that name back in five minutes without looking again. In any case, CMAH promotes the synthesis of a “toxic” sugar called Neu5Gc. Interestingly, the CMAH genes apparently went rogue in humans around a short, 2 million years ago, deeming our species unable to innately synthesize Neu5Gc. This supposedly occurred to reduce the risk of disease plaguing the human body as some illnesses require Neu5Gc to thrive.

Significant amounts of Neu5Gc are found in caviar, dairy products and red meats. It has been found that when humans eat an animal with the CMAH gene, the body undergoes “an immune reaction to the foreign sugar (Neu5Gc), which can cause inflammation, arthritis and cancer,” according to the same study.

The research, led by the College of Science Assistant Professor David Alvarez-Ponce, analyzed 322 animal genome sequences to determine when the CMAH gene went missing in humans, as this could give us a better understanding of why certain species have the gene and others do not.

Fish, chicken, turkey, geese and most reptiles researched in the study did not have active CMAH genes.

The study concludes that if, “an animal has a CMAH gene, then you shouldn’t eat the animal because of inflammation, arthritis and cancer.” However, if an animal does not contain the CMAH gene, then “those animals are more likely to contain pathogens that feed off of Neu5Gc,” which can be dangerous to humans if bitten.

We may now be able to begin to understand why consuming certain foods increases your risk of disease and illness.

This research could also lead to further knowledge regarding human acceptance of organ transplants from animals. The study suspects that if an animal has the CMAH genes, its organs may be rejected by the human body due to the presence of the toxic sugar Neu5Gc. However, if the animal does not have the CMAH genes, its organs could be tolerated by the human body.

An exciting step for the nutrigenomic and nutrigenetic community, the research led by David Alvarez-Ponce is a peek into what the future looks like for work in nutrition, medicine and the human genome.

The research at the University of Nevada at Reno is slated to be published in the Oxford University Press Journal Genome Biology and Evolution in January 2018.

Find out more about the research here.


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