A bacterium causes illness via red meat

Oct. 30, 2008 at 12:48 AM

SAN DIEGO, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- An international research team has uncovered the first example of a bacterium that causes food poisoning in humans via red meat, a U.S. researcher says.

Dr. Ajit Varki of the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, says the bacterium targets a non-human molecule absorbed into the body through red meats such as lamb, pork and beef.

The scientists discovered that a potent bacterial toxin called subtilase cytotoxin specifically targets human cells that have a non-human, cellular molecule on their surface. The molecule -- N-glycolylneuraminic acid, or Neu5Gc -- is a type of glycan, or sugar molecule, that humans don't naturally produce.

Subtilase cytotoxin is produced by certain kinds of E. coli bacteria, causing bloody diarrhea and a potentially fatal disease called haemolytic uraemic syndrome in humans, Varki says.

"When the toxin binds to the non-human Neu5Gc receptors, it can result in serious food-poisoning and other symptoms in humans," Varki says in a statement.

The research emphasizes the need for people to eat only well-cook meat or pasteurized dairy products -- processes that destroy contaminating bacteria, Varki says.

The findings are published online ahead of print in the journal Nature.

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