New Compounds Created by Grilling Meat are Hundreds of Times More Mutagenic

First Posted: Jan 07, 2014 07:22 AM EST

Scientists have uncovered chemical compounds that are hundreds of times more mutagenic than their parent compounds, which are known carcinogens. Not only that, but these compounds are produced by certain types of chemical reactions, such as those found in vehicle exhaust or grilling meat. The findings raise additional concerns about the health impacts of heavily-polluted urban air and dietary exposure.

"Some of the compounds that we've discovered are far more mutagenic than we previously understood, and may exist in the environment as a result of heavy air pollution from vehicles or some types of food preparation," said Staci Simonich, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We don't know at this point what levels may be present, and will explore that in continued research."

In order to detect these new compounds, the scientists conducted laboratory experiments that mimic the types of conditions which might be found from the combustion and exhaust in cars and trucks, or the grilling of meat over a flame. The parent compounds involved were polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, formed naturally as the result of almost any type of combustion.

Many PAHs, such as benzopyrene, are known to be carcinogenic. In fact, they're believed to be more of a health concern than previously thought. Yet these PAHs become even more of a problem when they chemically interact with nitrogen to become "nitrated," or NPAHs.  These newly-discovered compounds can have direct mutagenicity that can increase 6 to 432 times more than the parent compounds.

Currently, researchers plan to examine these NPAHs a bit more closely. Because they're so much more mutagenic than their parent compounds, they could represent a huge risk to health. As air pollution continues to increase in places like Beijing, it's important to understand exactly how these compounds can impact a person on a daily basis.

The findings are published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

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