Selenium cycling across soil-plant-atmosphere interfaces: a critical review

Nutrients. 2015 May 29;7(6):4199-239. doi: 10.3390/nu7064199.


Selenium (Se) is an essential element for humans and animals, which occurs ubiquitously in the environment. It is present in trace amounts in both organic and inorganic forms in marine and freshwater systems, soils, biomass and in the atmosphere. Low Se levels in certain terrestrial environments have resulted in Se deficiency in humans, while elevated Se levels in waters and soils can be toxic and result in the death of aquatic wildlife and other animals. Human dietary Se intake is largely governed by Se concentrations in plants, which are controlled by root uptake of Se as a function of soil Se concentrations, speciation and bioavailability. In addition, plants and microorganisms can biomethylate Se, which can result in a loss of Se to the atmosphere. The mobilization of Se across soil-plant-atmosphere interfaces is thus of crucial importance for human Se status. This review gives an overview of current knowledge on Se cycling with a specific focus on soil-plant-atmosphere interfaces. Sources, speciation and mobility of Se in soils and plants will be discussed as well as Se hyperaccumulation by plants, biofortification and biomethylation. Future research on Se cycling in the environment is essential to minimize the adverse health effects associated with unsafe environmental Se levels.

Keywords: atmosphere; biofortification; biomethylation; environment; hyperaccumulation; plants; selenium; soil; speciation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Crops, Agricultural / chemistry*
  • Environment
  • Plant Roots / chemistry
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / chemistry
  • Selenium / analysis*
  • Soil / chemistry*


  • Soil
  • Selenium