Natural variation of selenium in Brazil nuts and soils from the Amazon region

Chemosphere. 2017 Dec;188:650-658. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2017.08.158. Epub 2017 Sep 4.


Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) is native of the Amazon rainforest. Brazil nuts are consumed worldwide and are known as the richest food source of selenium (Se). Yet, the reasoning for such Se contents is not well stablished. We evaluated the variation in Se concentration of Brazil nuts from Brazilian Amazon basin, as well as soil properties, including total Se concentration, of the soils sampled directly underneath the trees crown, aiming to investigate which soil properties influence Se accumulation in the nuts. The median Se concentration in Brazil nuts varied from 2.07 mg kg-1 (in Mato Grosso state) to 68.15 mg kg-1 (in Amazonas state). Therefore, depending on its origin, a single Brazil nut could provide from 11% (in the Mato Grosso state) up to 288% (in the Amazonas state) of the daily Se requirement for an adult man (70 μg). The total Se concentration in the soil also varied considerably, ranging from <65.76 to 625.91 μg kg-1, with highest Se concentrations being observed in soil samples from the state of Amazonas. Se accumulation in Brazil nuts generally increased in soils with higher total Se content, but decreased under acidic conditions in the soil. This indicates that, besides total soil Se concentration, soil acidity plays a major role in Se uptake by Brazil nut trees, possibly due to the importance of this soil property to Se retention in the soil.

Keywords: Amazon rainforest; Bertholletia excelsa; Genotypic variation; Nutrition; Selenium accumulation; Selenium availability.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bertholletia*
  • Brazil
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nuts / chemistry*
  • Selenium / analysis*
  • Soil / chemistry*


  • Soil
  • Selenium