‘The Cheeseburger Effect’: What Is Its Effect on Mice? [STUDY]

A diet of fast food may be changing New York City mice’s genes.

New York City is famous for its food scene. The great restaurants. The cronut. Those huge slices of pizza. Well, it turns out when humans eat, mice eat. And this delicious but not-so-good-for-you diet is having profound effects on mice. According to a recent study, their diet may even be changing their genes.

The study, which was published last month in Molecular Ecology, involved 48 white-footed mice caught from three New York parks and three nearby rural areas. The mice are native to New York, so researchers Stephen Harris of the State University of New York and Jason Munshi-South of Fordham University wanted to see if the city mice had begun to evolve for city living.

The researchers found 381 genetic differences. They focused on differences in 19 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the mice’s RNA—places where a single letter varies at a specific position in the genome.

Many of these were involved in metabolic processes, like digestion. Some of the genes were significantly associated with fatty liver disease, suggesting the rats are eating a lot of fatty acids. Fatty acids are prevalent in fast food. The city mice also had larger livers with more scar tissue.

“Our results indicate that white-footed mice in NYC are adapting at the biomolecular level to local selective pressures in urban habitats,” the researchers wrote. In particular, the researchers hypothesized that the mice may be evolving based on their urban diet of more plentiful, poorer quality food.

“The first thing that we thought of was the ‘cheeseburger hypothesis’: urban mice subsidizing their diet on human food waste,” said Harris.

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