The high level of arsenic in many rice growing regions has led to genetic damage in humans, a new study finds.

Researchers have recently raised concerns about the high level of arsenic in many rice growing areas across the world. In a new study conducted by University of Manchester scientists, working in collaboration with scientists at CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology in Kolkata, researchers exposed the health risks of consuming excessive arsenic.

They found a direct like between rice containing high levels of arsenic and chromosomal damage in humans consuming rice as a staple. These chromosomal damages were measured by micronuclei in urothelial cells. Most human cells have 46 chromosomes. When any of these chromosomes are damaged they remain as small "micronuclei" in the cells and are unable to take part in cell division. An increased amount of micronuclei can lead to the development of cancer.

Researchers found that in rural West Bengal, where rice is the staple diet, individuals who consumed rice containing more than 0.2 mg/kg arsenic showed higher frequencies of micronuclei.

The study found similar results for men and women, tobacco users and tobacco non-users and participants from across three different locations where the study was carried out. Researchers used similar methods as used in studies conducted on higher level of arsenic in drinking water.

"Although concerns about arsenic in rice have been raised for some time now, to our knowledge, this is the first time a link between consumption of arsenic-bearing rice and genetic damage has been demonstrated. As such, it vindicates increasing concerns expressed by the European Food Safety Authority and others about the adequacy of regulation of arsenic in rice," Professor David Polya, who led the Manchester team in the University's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, said in a press statement.

He went on to clarify that without contamination, rice is an important source of essential energy, vitamins and fiber. Dr Ashok K Giri, who led the Indian research team, clarified that while high levels of arsenic in rice can pose a threat to human health, there is no need to panic. Proper precautions can be taken to avoid such contamination. One of them includes using right agricultural techniques.

"We hope that our work will encourage efforts to introduce regulatory standards for arsenic in food, and particularly in rice, which are more consistent and protective of human health," Polya concluded.

According to a National Geographic report, rice is the food staple for more than 1.6 billion people around the world, particularly in Asia, Latin America, and parts of Africa with China, India, and Indonesia being the largest rice producers in the world.