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Opting for a meat-free diet could be down to a genetic mutation, scientists suggest 

Only like greens? It’s all down to your genes! Opting for a meat-free diet could be down to a genetic mutation, scientists suggest

Scientists have found that opting for a meat-free diet could be down to a genetic mutation rather than a simple lifestyle choice.

Analysis of the genomes of British vegetarians found a link between their rejection of meat and mutations in their DNA that distinguish them from carnivores.

Researchers compared the genomes of 5,642 British vegetarians with those of more than 360,000 meat eaters. They discovered a single mutation, near a gene labelled VRK2, was strongly associated with people wanting to turn vegetarian.

The same study, by scientists from Oxford University and published by Wellcome Open Research, also found vegetarians tend to be more intelligent, gain higher academic qualifications than average and be more successful.

Analysis of the genomes of British vegetarians found a link between their rejection of meat and mutations in their DNA that distinguish them from carnivores [File photo]

Meat-free diets are already popular among high-achievers in the arts world, with devotees including vegetarian musician Ellie Goulding and vegan actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Thandie Newton.

The team, led by Georgina Fensom at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Populations Health, said finding out why people choose certain diets was important because food has such an impact on health.

The researchers’ findings show that the mutation is associated with people becoming vegetarians but this does not mean it is the actual cause of their lifestyle change.

The VRK2 gene is, however, already known to be linked to brain and personality development as well as with having a taste for meat consumption. 

‘Previous studies have reported an association with differences in the intake of beef, lamb, mutton, pork, and processed meat,’ they said.

It suggests the variant found by the researchers may predispose people with the ‘veggie mutation’ to adopt a meat-free lifestyle.

Vegetarianism, once regarded as an eccentricity, is rapidly becoming mainstream – partly because of environmental concerns.

Britain’s 1.4 million vegetarians reject meat, fish and some animal products such as gelatine or animal fats but might still eat eggs and dairy products.

Vegans – who reject dairy and eggs as well as meat – are thought to have quadrupled between 2014 and 2019, now totalling about 600,000 people in the UK, according to surveys by the Vegan Society and the Food Standards Agency.

Commenting on the finding, Robbie Locke, co-founder and director of Plant Based News, a vegan news website, said: ‘More research is needed, but it confirms that going meat-free is a smart move when it comes to the planet, personal and public health, and animal welfare.’

The researchers¿ findings show that the mutation is associated with people becoming vegetarians but this does not mean it is the actual cause of their lifestyle change [File photo]

The researchers’ findings show that the mutation is associated with people becoming vegetarians but this does not mean it is the actual cause of their lifestyle change [File photo]

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