Researchers in Japan and China have found that protein, iron and zinc levels in rice all fell significantly when grown in higher carbon dioxide environments. For people who depend heavily on rice as a staple in their diets, such a nutritional loss would be devastating, says Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington and an author on the study. The finding that rice's nutritional quality can suffer as atmospheric Carbon dioxide concentrations increase has notable implications for populations in regions that rely on rice for primary nutrition. "But how plants respond to that sudden increase in food will impact human health as well, from nutritional deficits, to ethno-pharmacology, to seasonal pollen allergies - in ways that we don't yet understand", study co-author Lewis Ziska said.
"This technique allows us to test the effects of higher carbon dioxide concentrations on plants growing in the same conditions that farmers really will grow them some decades later in this century", said Kobayashi.
The grain contains lower levels of protein, and iron and zinc - metals vital for health in trace form - and also consistent declines in vitamin B.
Of course, many foods can be a rich source of these essential nutrients, but Ebi says food other than rice is not always available to people. Wheat, maize, rice, field peas and soybeans grown under high carbon dioxide conditions were found to have lower levels of protein and minerals. These vitamins are vital for the people to clinch in the energy from the food.
So we're not just changing the climate by burning fossil fuels, we're also changing the food we eat, according to a study in Science Advances.
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"Vitamin B1 (thiamine) levels decreased by 17.1 per cent; average Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) by 16.6 per cent; average Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) by 12.7 per cent; and average Vitamin B9 (folate) by 30.3 per cent", said the report.
The reasons for the changes have to do with how higher Carbon dioxide affects the plant's structure and growth, increasing carbohydrate content and reducing protein and minerals, said the study.
"Some varieties showed a very large decline, some varieties much less a drop of vitamin contents". The findings were based on field studies in Japan and China, simulating the amount of Carbon dioxide expected in the atmosphere by the second half of this century - 568 to 590 parts per million. Wind sensors and gas detectors helped scientists ensure each plant was exposed to the correct amount of CO2. "Reductions in the nutritional quality of rice could affect maternal and child health for millions of people". As carbon dioxide levels got higher, certain nutrients became less powerful. They collectively conducted a field study on about eighteen strains of the rice from the China and Japan.
The scientists suggest that either breeding or genetically engineering new strains could be a way to lessen the nutritional impact of climate change.