Diet has been associated with differences in cancer rates in human populations for many years. However, causes of cancer associated with the diet have not been adequately explained.

This talk will present the latest research on cancer causes from atoms and molecules to experiments in humans. This "diet and cancer" project combines the traditional disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics to investigate a human health problem. Particular emphasis will be on work performed at LLNL investigating some interesting chemical products created when meat is cooked. We will also describe how lowering the cooking temperature, marinating meat, and turning the meat frequently reduces the formation of these compounds.

Experimental work in bacteria, cultured mammalian cells, rodents and humans are needed to understand and estimate a future impact on cancer in humans. Come and see how the variety of data come together to give the best scientific conclusion on a difficult health problem.

See this lecture on UCTV Video-on-Demand or refer to the complete UCTV Science on Saturday lecture series for more details.

Today you will learn

  • What is a mutation?
  • What do mutations have to do with cancer?
  • What is the evidence that cooking produces mutagens?
  • How do bacteria tell us anything about cancer in animals or people?
  • How do scientists decide when a chemical or radiation is a carcinogen?
  • How are chemicals from meat purified and measured?
  • How does cooking affect carcinogen formation?
  • What are ways to reduce carcinogen formation?


Students will learn about methods and limitations found in cancer research, and will explore how scientists at LLNL are investigating the relationship between diet and cancer.

Student Lecture Notes

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I. The tough job cells have—reproducing themselves.


II. DNA and mutations—the cells instructions.


III. Simplifying mixtures—Chromatography.


IV. How do bacteria tell us about cancer?


Ames test, show petri dishes, results.


V. What are other mutagenic mixtures to which some people are exposed?

Cigarette smoke.


Toasted bread products.


Peanut butter.


VI. How does cooking affect carcinogen formation?


Time/temperature/heat flow modeling/meat modeling.


VII. How we estimate health effects in people?


Dose, species, individual susceptibility, compare to other carcinogens, epidemiology studies.


VIII. Ways to reduce carcinogen formation.


Cooking/microwave/marinade/flipping rate.


What should we eat?—the bigger picture.

Speaker Bios

Mark Knize

Research Scientist, Bioscience Directorate
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Mark is a Biomedical Scientist with over 20 years' experience in identifying and chemically synthesizing and performing experiments with carcinogens formed when foods are cooked. This work combines biology, chemistry, and physics to investigate an important human health problem. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biological Sciences from California State University, Stanislaus.

Dr.Bill Southam

Chemistry Teacher
Castro Valley High School, Castro Valley School District

Dr. Southam received his B.S. in agriculture from U.C. Davis in 1966 and his Ph.D. in plant physiology from the University of Florida in 1970. After 20 years in the agricultural industry both at home and abroad, he embarked on a new career as a chemistry teacher. He has been teaching high school science for 17 years.