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Rice Seeds Accumulate Arsenic; Healthier Grains On the Horizon?

Jan 03, 2016 07:23 PM EST
Arsenic, a chemical commonly used in herbicides, tends to accumulate in the seeds of plants, which in turn contaminates our food supply.
(Photo : Gui-Lan Duan and Barry P. Rosen)

Arsenic is a well-known toxin and carcinogen derived from minerals and commonly used in herbicides, animal growth promoters and semiconductors. In a recent study, an international team of researchers investigated how this chemical gets into the seeds of economically importat plants such as rice.

"While the process of how arsenic is taken into roots and shoots of plants is fairly well understood, little is known about how arsenic gets into seeds," Barry P. Rosen, one of the study researchers from Florida International University's (FIU) Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, explained in a news release. "Understanding how arsenic is accumulated in seeds such as the rice grain is of critical importance in population health."

Rosen worked alongside researcher Jian Chen, also from FIU's Department of Cellular Biology and Pharmacology. They focused on a flowering plant known as Arabidopsis thaliana, which is used as a model for food plants such as rice. Their study revealed this plant uses transport systems for inositol (a type of sugar) to load arsenite (the toxic form of arsenic) into seeds. This is the first evidence of plant transporters responsible for arsenic accumulation in seeds, according to FIU's release.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arsenic is ranked first on the U.S. Priority List of Hazardous Substances. In addition to threating the safety of our food supply, this toxic chemical contaminates the world's supply of drinking water.  

The diets of more than 2.5 billion people worldwide depend on rice and the average American eats 25 pounds of rice per year, according to the U.S. Rice Producers Association. Their findings have important implications for the growth of safer and healthier grains of rice.

Their study was recently published in the journal Nature Plants.

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