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FIU scientists discover how arsenic builds up in plant seeds

Discovery holds promise of healthier rice grains

Florida International University

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IMAGE: This image shows an Arabidopsis plant overlaying rice grains that spell out arsenic because this research predicts that this is how arsenic gets into the rice grains that we eat.... view more

Credit: Gui-Lan Duan and Barry P. Rosen

Researchers from FIU's Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine Barry P. Rosen and Jian Chen, both from the Department of Cellular Biology and Pharmacology, are part of an international team that has identified how arsenic gets into the seeds of plants such as rice. The discovery holds the promise of healthier rice grains.

"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," says Rosen. "Understanding how arsenic is accumulated in seeds such as the rice grain is of critical importance in population health."

The group of scientists discovered that Arabidopsis thaliana, which is used as a model for food plants such as rice, uses transport systems for inositol (a type of sugar) to load arsenite (the toxic form of arsenic) into seeds, making their work the first identification of transporters responsible for arsenic accumulation in seeds. The study published this week in the journal Nature Plants.

Arsenic is a toxin and a carcinogen that comes from minerals and is used in some herbicides, animal growth promoters, and semiconductors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks arsenic first on the U.S. Priority List of Hazardous Substances. The EPA asserts that it pervades our drinking water, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is concerned about arsenic endangering the safety of our food supply.

A major source of dietary arsenic are plants such as rice that have accumulated arsenic. And rice is a major component of the diet of more than 2.5 billion people worldwide. The average American eats 25 pounds of rice per year, according to the U.S. Rice Producers Association.

Rosen, who specializes in arsenic research, said discoveries such as this will enable the development of new rice cultivation methods with less arsenic in the grain.

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About The FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine:

The Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine was approved in 2006 by the Florida Board of Governors and the Florida Legislature, and in February 2013 the medical degree program received full accreditation from the Liaison Committee for Medical Education. The College graduated its inaugural class on April 29, 2013. Among the innovative elements of the HWCOM is a program called Green Family Foundation NeighborhoodHELP™ that sends teams of medical students along with their counterparts in social work, nursing, and law into the community. The College of Medicine's mission is to lead the next generation of medical education and improve the quality of health care available to the South Florida community. For more information visit http://medicine.fiu.edu/

About FIU:

Florida International University is recognized as a Carnegie engaged university. It is a public research university with colleges and schools that offers more than 180 bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in fields such as engineering, computer science, international relations, architecture, law and medicine. As one of South Florida's anchor institutions, FIU contributes $8.9 billion each year to the local economy. FIU is Worlds Ahead in finding solutions to the most challenging problems of our time. FIU emphasizes research as a major component of its mission. FIU has awarded over 200,000 degrees and enrolls more than 55,000 students in two campuses and three centers including FIU Downtown on Brickell, FIU@I-75, and the Miami Beach Urban Studios. FIU's Medina Aquarius Program houses the Aquarius Reef Base, a unique underwater research facility in the Florida Keys. FIU also supports artistic and cultural engagement through its three museums: Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, the Wolfsonian-FIU, and the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU. FIU is a member of Conference USA and has over 400 student-athletes participating in 18 sports. For more information about FIU, visit http://www.fiu.edu/

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