girl eating salad girl eating salad You really are what you eat. (Photo: Suranart Niamcome/Shutterstock)

Could your genes be making you vegetarian?

Your diet may not be a lifestyle choice, but rather a product of your DNA, scientists say.

Turns out your diet might not just be a lifestyle choice. According to a study out of Cornell University, it's in your genes, too.

Scientists have found that a shift to a vegetarian diet by farmers thousands of years ago led to a genetic mutation. That's some pretty strong evolutionary evidence that diets can actually change the human genome.

The team of researchers – led by Israeli-born Alon Keinan, Indian-born Kumar Kothapalli and American-born Tom Brenna, all professors at Cornell – tied this mutation to a primarily vegetarian population in Pune, India. To conduct their study, they compared the genetic makeup of that group to a traditional meat-eating American population. They found that the mutation is much more prevalent in the Indian population than the American one.

Their research appeared in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

An Israeli woman buys vegetables on Jan 22 2010 in Tel Aviv. A woman buys vegetables at a market in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock)

In further evidence of the groundbreaking mutation discovery, researchers also found a different version of that gene in individuals belonging to an Inuit tribe in Greenland that subsists primarily on seafood. This suggests that specific versions of genes have adapted over time to allow people to process certain foods.

"This is the most unique scenario of local adaptation that I had the pleasure of helping uncover," said Keinan, who received his Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University. His lab at Cornell provided a home base for the research. "Several previous studies pointed to recent adaptation in this region of the genome. Our analysis points to both previous studies and our results being driven by the same insertion of an additional small piece of DNA, an insertion which has a known function."

So next time someone asks you why you've become a vegetarian, simply shrug your shoulders and say, "It's all in the genes."

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