Selenium in cereals: improving the efficiency of agronomic biofortification in the UK
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- Lyons, G. Plant Soil (2010) 332: 1. doi:10.1007/s11104-010-0282-9
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Wheat, despite its relatively low selenium (Se) concentration in the UK, is still an important dietary Se source and its biofortification by use of Se fertiliser may be an efficient means to increase the relatively low Se status of the population. We need to know more about the fate of Se applied to the soil and how to ensure the efficiency of Se application, and the three studies reported in this issue of Plant and Soil are timely and informative. Selenium in soil, both globally and locally, is notoriously variable; however, the soils in these studies yielded wheat grain Se concentrations in the narrow range of 16–44 ng/g. The low plant Se levels reported here are not surprising, given that selenite is the dominant Se form in these soils. A regression equation (which used total and extractable Se and extractable S as variables) explained a high proportion of the variance in grain Se concentration. Sulphur application (a common practice on UK wheat growing soils) had variable effects on grain Se concentration, depending on soil S status, pH and possibly other factors. A fertiliser methodology study investigated ways to optimise Se application for the purpose of biofortification. It was calculated that an application of a modest 10 g Se/ha as selenate would increase the grain Se concentration of UK wheat from around 30 ng/g to 300 ng/g. The national Se fertiliser program in Finland shows that this increase would have a large effect on population Se status. However, Se recovery in grain at this application rate is only 14%, and it can be argued that large-scale agronomic biofortification of cereals with Se would be somewhat wasteful of a relatively scarce trace element. Selenium’s effects and interactions in soil, plants, animals and humans are complex and often surprising and will keep researchers busy well into the future.