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Study: Rice Sapped of Essential Nutrients by Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels

About 25 percent of the calories consumed globally come from rice, which is under threat from rising carbon dioxide levels. (Calmuziclover/Flickr)
About 25 percent of the calories consumed globally come from rice, which is under threat from rising carbon dioxide levels. (Calmuziclover/Flickr)
May 30, 2018

SEATTLE – Rice is an important source of nutrients for billions of people around the world, but it could lose some of its key health benefits as carbon dioxide levels continue to rise.

Researchers found rice is sapped of essential B vitamins when concentrations of the most common greenhouse gas are increased.

Their study published in Science Advances also confirms that levels of protein, iron and zinc decrease in the crop as carbon dioxide levels go up.

Kristie Ebi, a public health researcher at the University of Washington and one of the authors of the study, says B vitamins such as folate are critical nutrients for pregnant women.

"It's very important that pregnant women and children receive enough of the B vitamins so that the fetus can develop normally and the child can develop normally,” she stresses. “In these countries that rely so heavily on rice for a significant portion of their calories, this could have implications for maternal and child health."

The study says about one quarter of calories consumed globally come from rice.

Ebi points out plants grow faster with more carbon dioxide, but it also throws nitrogen levels out of balance, leaving less for the production of B vitamins.

She also notes it's not just rice-dependent countries that have to worry about the changing climate's effect on food. She says says rising temperatures also will hurt wheat crops, an important source of starch to Americans.

Ebi says many countries, especially those that are poor and disadvantaged, already are on the front lines of a changing climate.

"This study shows one other area that will particularly affect the poor – those who have limited access to resources – and is another reason why it is important to address the drivers of climate change – the emissions of our greenhouse gases," she stresses.

U.S. scientists partnered with researchers in Australia, China and Japan on this study. The U.S. Department of Agriculture was also a partner.

Ebi hopes she and other researchers can dive into the link between increased carbon dioxide and decreased B vitamin production in plants, although she says funding for this type of research is low.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA