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article imageNew technique to reduce arsenic levels in rice

By Tim Sandle     May 3, 2013 in Environment
Delaware - Levels of arsenic in rice presents a major toxicity risk to millions of people. Scientists are experimenting with a new bacterium to see if the organism can reduce arsenic deposits down to a safe level.
Rice is one of the main staple global foods. One risk with rice is that it can absorb arsenic from the environment and transfers it to the grain. Arsenic may occur naturally in the soil, as it does in many parts of Southeast Asia, or it may be a result of environmental contamination. Rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more effectively than most plants. That’s in part because it is one of the only major crops grown in water-flooded conditions, which allow arsenic to be more easily taken up by its roots and stored in the grains.
In regions of the world where rice is the major component of the human diet this can sometimes present a toxicity risk.
Long-term exposure to arsenic can lead to skin, lung, bladder, liver, kidney and prostate cancers, and low levels can cause skin lesions, diarrhea and other symptoms. As an aside, arsenic poisoning is said to have killed the novelist Jane Austen.
Scientists are examining whether a naturally occurring soil bacterium, referred to as UD1023, can create an iron barrier in rice roots that reduces arsenic uptake. UD1023 is naturally found in the rhizosphere, the layer of soil and microbes adjacent to rice roots. The bacterium appears to be able to block the arsenic uptake by rice plants. The process is still unclear, Lab Manager Magazine explains, to the science team, but it appears to relate to the way in which the bacteria utilize iron from the soil.
The research was undertaken by the University of Delaware's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.
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