Arsenic and selenium in microbial metabolism

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2006;60:107-30. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.60.080805.142053.


Arsenic and selenium are readily metabolized by prokaryotes, participating in a full range of metabolic functions including assimilation, methylation, detoxification, and anaerobic respiration. Arsenic speciation and mobility is affected by microbes through oxidation/reduction reactions as part of resistance and respiratory processes. A robust arsenic cycle has been demonstrated in diverse environments. Respiratory arsenate reductases, arsenic methyltransferases, and new components in arsenic resistance have been recently described. The requirement for selenium stems primarily from its incorporation into selenocysteine and its function in selenoenzymes. Selenium oxyanions can serve as an electron acceptor in anaerobic respiration, forming distinct nanoparticles of elemental selenium that may be enriched in (76)Se. The biogenesis of selenoproteins has been elucidated, and selenium methyltransferases and a respiratory selenate reductase have also been described. This review highlights recent advances in ecology, biochemistry, and molecular biology and provides a prelude to the impact of genomics studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Arsenate Reductases / physiology
  • Arsenic / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Drug Resistance
  • Ecology
  • Methylation
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Oxidoreductases / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Selenium / metabolism*
  • Selenocysteine / metabolism


  • Selenocysteine
  • Oxidoreductases
  • arsenite oxidase
  • Arsenate Reductases
  • selenate reductase
  • Selenium
  • Arsenic