Genetics of vegetarianism: A genome-wide association study

Nabeel R. Yaseen, Catriona L.K. Barnes, Lingwei Sun, Akiko Takeda, John P. Rice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A substantial body of evidence points to the heritability of dietary preferences. While vegetarianism has been practiced for millennia in various societies, its practitioners remain a small minority of people worldwide, and the role of genetics in choosing a vegetarian diet is not well understood. Dietary choices involve an interplay between the physiologic effects of dietary items, their metabolism, and taste perception, all of which are strongly influenced by genetics. In this study, we used a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to identify loci associated with strict vegetarianism in UK Biobank participants. Comparing 5,324 strict vegetarians to 329,455 controls, we identified one SNP on chromosome 18 that is associated with vegetarianism at the genome-wide significant level (rs72884519, β = -0.11, P = 4.997 x 10−8), and an additional 201 suggestively significant variants. Four genes are associated with rs72884519: TMEM241, RIOK3, NPC1, and RMC1. Using the Functional Mapping and Annotation (FUMA) platform and the Multi-marker Analysis of GenoMic Annotation (MAGMA) tool, we identified 34 genes with a possible role in vegetarianism, 3 of which are GWAS-significant based on gene-level analysis: RIOK3, RMC1, and NPC1. Several of the genes associated with vegetarianism, including TMEM241, NPC1, and RMC1, have important functions in lipid metabolism and brain function, raising the possibility that differences in lipid metabolism and their effects on the brain may underlie the ability to subsist on a vegetarian diet. These results support a role for genetics in choosing a vegetarian diet and open the door to future studies aimed at further elucidating the physiologic pathways involved in vegetarianism.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0291305
JournalPloS one
Issue number10 October
StatePublished - Oct 2023


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