For the first time, research reveals that vitamins B1, B2, B5 and B9, all of which are important to the body's ability to turn food into energy, decrease in rice as carbon dioxide levels increased. Rice is the primary food source for more than two billion people around the world, a key source of protein and vitamins.
As carbon dioxide rises due to the burning of fossil fuels, rice will lose some of its protein and vitamin content, putting millions of people at risk of malnutrition, scientists warned on Wednesday.
The finding remains true - although at different levels of impact - for the 18 varieties or hybrids of rice tested so far.
That's a potential concern for public health, the authors say, particularly in poorer nations where rice makes up a large proportion of people's diet.
"There's been studies over the past hundred years for the importance of these B vitamins", Kristie Ebi, a public health researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle and one of the authors of the study.
"It's something that we need to be aware of and it's something that we need to evaluate", says Lewis Ziska, a US Department of Agriculture plant physiologist who is on the research team. But seed will loss the quality. Rice grown under the higher carbon dioxide concentrations expected in the second half of this century (568 to 590 parts per million) is less nutritious, with lower amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
They built a 17-meter-wide plastic pipe octagons elevated about 30 centimeters above the tops of plants within standard rice fields, with sensors and monitors measuring how much carbon dioxide is released out of the pipes created to raise the carbon concentration to a desired experimental level. They confirmed declines in protein, iron and zinc, as well as consistent declines in vitamin B, in all varieties, under increases of this greenhouse gas.
Director of the ARC's Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis, Professor Bob Furbank, said in theory higher Carbon dioxide levels were a good thing for growth - but the reality proved somewhat different.
"One that declines with higher Carbon dioxide concentrations is folate". Experts interested in the effects of human-caused changes on agriculture crops like rice have typically focused their studies on effects on agricultural production. Some populations could experience nutrient deficiencies in the future, some studies found.
The change could be particularly dire in southeast Asia where rice is a major part of the daily diet, said the report in the journal Science Advances. One high-profile 2015 study in The Lancet suggested that 140 million more people worldwide may suffer from zinc deficiency by 2050.
Still, "what the nature of that impact is in terms of nutritional effects and health effects" remains to be seen, Ziska noted. "And that's important if we want to move from understanding the problem to solving it".
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