Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Processing Arsenic: Genes Have a Say in How It's Metabolized. (Science Selections)

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Processing Arsenic: Genes Have a Say in How It's Metabolized. (Science Selections)

Article excerpt

Arsenic has become notorious as a contaminant in drinking water worldwide because long-term ingestion of its inorganic form causes cancer and skin lesions. Studies are showing that some people are more affected by arsenic than others, probably due to genetic differences in how their bodies process the chemical. Now researchers from the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health evaluate for the first time the degree to which family members resemble each other in their arsenic methylation capacities [EHP 110:729-733].

Joyce S. Chung and colleagues analyzed the urinary arsenic concentrations of 44 members of 11 Chilean families. The families all drank from one water source in their desert town of Chiu Chiu. The arsenic concentrations in the water were 750-800 [micro]g/L, more than 70 times the new standard in the United States of 10 [micro]g/L

Arsenic is metabolized when enzymes in the body attach a methyl group to it. Inorganic arsenic is converted first to monomethylarsenate and then to dimethylarsinate. The relative concentration of each in the urine is known as the methylation pattern.

The researchers compared methylation patters among family members. Siblings had more similar patterns with each other than with their parents, and more similar patterns with their parents than with nonrelatives. For example, the correlations for one measurement of methylation were 0. …

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