Love your steak rare? Beware deadly bacteria

October 31st, 2008 - 11:13 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Oct 31 (IANS) Red meat eaters beware. You could be targeted by a potentially deadly bacteria like the E. coli unless the meat is well cooked. Microbiologists Adrienne Paton and James Paton of Adeliade University and their collaborators have shown that a potent bacterial toxin, Subtilase cytotoxin, specifically targets human cells that express a sugar called Neu5Gc on their surface.

“Red meat and dairy products, the richest dietary sources of Neu5Gc, are also the foods that are most commonly contaminated with the E. coli bacteria that produce the toxin,” Paton said.

“Remarkably, humans cannot make Neu5Gc, and so we should all be resistant to the toxin,” Paton said. “However, consuming foods that have high levels of Neu5Gc, such as red meat and dairy products, leads to uptake of the sugar by human cells and this makes them susceptible to attack by the toxin.”

Subtilase cytotoxin is produced by E. coli bacteria that cause bloody diarrhoea and haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) in humans. Paton said in HUS, toxin-induced damage to the delicate cells lining the blood vessels causes clots, damage to red blood cells and kidney failure.

Humans usually become infected with the potentially deadly E. coli after eating contaminated food, according to a release of Adelaide University. The paper outlining the research was published in the journal Nature Thursday.

The international research team also included scientists from Monash University, the University of California (Davis and San Diego) and Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

“This research emphasises the need for people to eat only well-cooked red meat (particularly for hamburgers), or pasteurised dairy products, as these processes destroy contaminating bacteria,” Paton said.

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