Underlying dynamics and effects of humic acid on selenium and cadmium uptake in rice seedlings

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Natural organic acids, such as humic acid (HA), play crucial roles in biogeochemistry of anions and cations in soil due to their numerous functional groups on their surfaces. Selenium (Se) and cadmium (Cd) could bind strongly to HA; nevertheless, it is still unclear as to the effects of HA on Se and Cd uptake in rice which will be focused on in this paper.

Materials and methods

Pot experiments were carried out at Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Agricultural soils were treated with different concentrations of HA (0, 4, and 8 g kg−1 soil) and Se (SeIV or SeVI) (0 and 2 mg kg−1 soil) as well as with base fertilizer 3 days prior to planting. For Cd treatment, experimental soils were treated with Cd (0 and 2 mg kg−1 soil) 1 month before sowing. For element determination, root (after DCB extraction) and shoot samples were digested with a mixed solution of HNO3-HClO4, and the Se and Cd in digest solution were measured by HG-AFS and ICP-MS, respectively. Fe, Se, and Cd in iron plaque were extracted by DCB extraction and measured by AAS, HG-AFS, and ICP-MS, respectively.

Results and discussion

HA reduced Se (or Cd)-induced growth stimulation and Se and Cd uptake in rice seedlings, whereas iron plaque formation varied little with different treatments. HA inhibited SeIV (or SeVI) uptake in rice seedlings by reducing Se translocations from soil to iron plaque (or by increasing Se adsorption capacity of iron plaque and decreasing Se transport from iron plaque to root). HA reduced Cd uptake in rice seedlings by reducing Cd transport from soil to iron plaque and from iron plaque to root. Compared with single addition of SeIV or SeVI or HA, adding HA combined with SeIV or SeVI could further reduce Cd uptake in rice seedlings, whereas Se contents of aerial tissues did not change obviously.


HA inhibited the accumulation of Se (SeIV or SeVI) and Cd in rice seedlings; nevertheless, the mechanism was different. Compared with adding Se (or HA) alone, application of Se mixed with HA might be a more effective way to produce Se-enriched and Cd-deficient crop in Cd-contaminated soil.

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The authors acknowledge Dr. Xinwei Liu of Huazhong Agricultural University for providing the experiment area for this experiment. We are also very grateful for the anonymous reviewers for their very constructive and valuable comments on this paper.

Funding information

This work has been jointly supported in part by National Key R&D Program of China (Grant No. 2016YFC0600501), Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41872250), and Development of Certified Reference Materials Program of China Geological Survey (DD20190475), and the project was also supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) (Grant No. CUG170104; G1323519320) and Science and Technology Agency of Shaanxi Province, China (2016FP3-11, 2017TSCXL-NY-02-01).

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Correspondence to Shuyun Xie.

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Zhang, H., Xie, S., Bao, Z. et al. Underlying dynamics and effects of humic acid on selenium and cadmium uptake in rice seedlings. J Soils Sediments 20, 109–121 (2020).

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  • Cadmium
  • Humic acid
  • Rice seedlings
  • Selenate
  • Selenite