Scientists found evidence that a vegetarian diet has led to a mutation that may make people more susceptible to inflammation, and by association, increased risk of heart disease and colon cancer.

The discovery by researchers including Kumar Kothapalli from Cornell University in US provides the first evolutionary detective work that traces a higher frequency of a particular mutation to a primarily vegetarian population from Pune (about 70 percent), when compared to a traditional meat-eating American population, made up of mostly Kansans (less than 20 percent).
    
By using reference data from the 1000 Genomes Project, researchers provided evolutionary evidence that the vegetarian diet, over many generations, may have driven the higher frequency of a mutation in the Indian population.

The mutation, called rs66698963 and found in the FADS2 gene, is an insertion or deletion of a sequence of DNA that regulates the expression of two genes, FADS1 and FADS2. These genes are key to making long chain polyunsaturated fats, researchers said.

Among these, arachidonic acid is a key target of the pharmaceutical industry because it is a central culprit for those at risk for heart disease, colon cancer, and many other inflammation-related conditions, they said.

The insertion mutation may be favoured in populations subsisting primarily on vegetarian diets and possibly populations having limited access to diets rich in polyunsaturated fats, especially fatty fish, researchers said.

Changes in the dietary omega-6 to omega-3 balance may contribute to the increase in chronic disease seen in some developing countries, researchers said.

The findings were published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

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