AsianScientist (Dec. 25, 2014) – An international team of scientists has identified an enzyme involved in regulating arsenic uptake by plants. The results, published in PLOS Biology, furthers the development of arsenic-resistant food crops, an important concern particularly for communities heavily dependent on rice.
Concerns about arsenic in food have grown in recent years with high concentrations of arsenic found in rice, fruit juices and even baby food. Arsenic is widely distributed in farmlands and irrigation systems, entering the food chain when it is taken up by plants. Despite the significant health risks associated with arsenic poisoning, what makes some plants accumulate arsenic and others resistant is still not well understood.
In the present study, a team of researchers including scientists from the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences (SIBS) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), have identified the gene HAC1 as an important regulator of arsenic uptake via a genome-wide association study (GWAS).
The team found that the enzyme encoded by the HAC1 gene performs the conversion of arsenate (AsV) to arsenite (AsIII), a form of arsenic that can be released back into the soil from the roots. They also showed that HAC1 is used by the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana to control arsenic accumulation. Deletion of this gene led to a 300-fold increase in arsenic accumulation in the plants studied.
This finding could be potentially used to engineer or breed new varieties of crops to accumulate less arsenic.
Source: Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences.
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