Arsenic in rice causing genetic damage, finds Indian population study

Friday 2 August 2013
Dr Mondal
Dr Mondal collecting samples in India.

A University of Salford researcher has been involved in a major research project that has identified millions of people at risk of serious genetic damage from arsenic absorbed by rice.

Dr Debapriya Mondal, a lecturer in health, safety and environment, worked with colleagues from the University of Manchester and the CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology in Kolkata to analyse more than 400,000 cell samples collected from populations in West Bengal.

The samples, which were collected from urine samples, contained high levels of micronuclei which are produced by chromosomal damage that results in cancer. Due to careful screening of the volunteers, the research team was able to show that this damage was linked to the high levels of arsenic in the rice, which is a dietary staple, This was after taking into account other known factors like smoking or drinking water arsenic concentrations.

The levels in rice were as high as those recorded in other areas from arsenic contaminated well water and come from naturally present deposits in the soil which are absorbed and concentrated during farming.

This is the first time a link between rice and arsenic poisoning has been proven and raises the possibility that hundreds of millions of people who eat a diet of rice grown in high arsenic areas could have a greater risk of developing cancer.

Dr Mondal, from the School of Environment & Life Sciences, initiated the project by establishing the collaboration while completing a PhD at the University of Manchester.

She worked as an exchange researcher from the University of Manchester to the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology. While working for eight months in the Indian Institute on this project, she was involved in field work and research planning for sample collection and analysis. She was also involved in the data analysis for this study and finally contributed to writing up the manuscript and taking an active role in discussing the findings.

She said: “These findings indicate arsenic in rice can in itself give rise to deleterious health effects, even if we are able to mitigate arsenic in drinking water. In these regions, people eating high quantities of locally grown rice might still have arsenic exposure.

“Much more work needs to be done to determine the effect of arsenic in rice in the general population. Keeping in and mind around 23% of imported rice in UK comes from India this also applies to British people living on a subsistence rice diet. Also, the authorities in these countries and the EU need to significantly improve testing and regulation of this crop.”

Follow the latest scientific research, courses and other news from Salford at our dedicated Twitter feed or on the College of Science and Technology Facebook page.