Elucidating the Genotoxicity of Synthetic Food Preservatives with the SOS Chromotest

(1) Harry D. Jacobs High School, Algonquin, Illinois

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The increased use of synthetic food preservatives makes it imperative to screen for their potential health risks. This project aimed to delineate the genotoxic potential and effects of commonly used synthetic food preservatives, specifically sodium nitrite, potassium sulfate, and hydrogen peroxide. We employed a colorimetric assay designed to test the induction of the DNA damage response using beta-galactosidase (β-gal) as a reporter. Evidence suggests these food preservatives may be genotoxic due to their ability to impair normal cellular pathways. We hypothesized that sodium nitrite would be the most genotoxic because nitrites are precursors to N-nitrosamines, a class of compounds that are carcinogenic byproducts of metabolism. Potassium sulfate and hydrogen peroxide were also initially hypothesized to be genotoxic. Two-fold serial dilutions were performed, and blue color formation was analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively to assess genotoxicity levels. The hypotheses were partially supported as all synthetic food preservatives demonstrated some degree of genotoxicity before and after metabolic activation; potassium sulfate was shown to be the most genotoxic. The inclusion of mammalian hepatic enzymes permitted for better correlation to humans, as results provided insight on the genotoxicity of food preservatives after normal metabolic function. These findings can inform future toxicology research to potentially prevent genetic damage and carcinogenesis.

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