The false conspiracy theory about ticks genetically modified to make us allergic to red meat

A TikTok video with over 2 million views has recently gone viral, claiming that Bill …

Captura de pantalla amb el filtre fals d'un TikTok que assegura que Bill Gates ha modificat genèticament paparres per a fer-nos al·lèrgics a la carn.

A TikTok video with over 2 million views has recently gone viral, claiming that Bill Gates has financed “the genetic modification of a tick” whose bite “will make us allergic to red meat”.

This claim is FALSE. No evidence exists to support the claim that the American magnate has financed any project to introduce said genetic modification in ticks. There are various species of ticks that naturally cause an allergy to red meat – not only in the United States, but also in Australia, Asia and Europe. This fact has been well documented in scientific research since 2009. Following the UN’s recommendation to curb the consumption of red meat in order to reduce CO2 emissions, various conspiracy theories have emerged claiming that eating it is prohibited.

And here we have Mr Bill Gates financing the genetic modification of a tick that makes us allergic to red meat

One of the main arguments of the New World Order conspiracy theory – according to which the commitments adopted by the United Nations (UN) in the 2030 Agenda are in reality a secret plan to instal a global dictatorship – is the one assuring that the programme aims to prohibit eating meat. The claim that we are currently fact-checking is one of the most recent examples. It is also false.

Two true but independent facts

On 27 July of this year, the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a press release stating that an estimated 450,000 Americans may have developed alpha-gal syndrome between 2010 and 2022. It is an allergy to red meat caused by the bite of a number of tick species (the most present in the United States is Amblyomma americanum). 

One day later, a website published that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had made several donations to the British biotech company Oxitec between 2021 and 2023 to study how to genetically edit the Rhipicephalus microplus tick, also known as the Asian blue tick, to prevent it from reproducing and infecting cattle with the disease.

The website connected the CDC’s announcement and the Gates Foundation’s recent donations in order to suggest, without stating it verbatim, that the magnate could be behind the allergy to red meat. The supposed link arrived in our country via users who had spread disinformation in the past.

Other species of ticks are to blame

According to the same July press release of the CDC, most of the cases of this allergy in the United States are not related to the Asian blue tick that Oxitec is studying but have been associated with the bites of Amblyomma americanum, a different species. The institution, however, does not discard the possibility of other species also causing the syndrome.

In addition, the Asian blue tick that Oxitec is studying has been eradicated in most of the United States, and it has not been confirmed that it causes alpha-gal syndrome. In fact, this tick is known for infecting cattle and costing farmers economic losses in the millions of dollars.

Alpha-gal syndrome

The first cases of the red meat allergy were documented in the early 2000s, but it would not be until 2009 that two different groups – one in the United States and one in Australia – published articles associating these rare cases with tick bites.

Alpha-gal, whose chemical name is galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, is a protein present in the cells of most mammals, except for humans and some apes. Recent studies have observed that this protein is found in the saliva of the species of ticks whose bites have been associated with the syndrome. As a result, the current hypothesis is that some unknown component of the saliva causes the person who is bitten to develop a hypersensitivity to alpha-gal, so that if the protein enters the body again, it produces an allergic reaction.  

The allergy only occurs when red meat is consumed, not when the people affected eat chicken or turkey, given that they are not mammals and do not have this protein. It can cause everything from urticaria and nausea to severe anaphylaxis and death.