The path followed in the biochemistry of selenium has taken some sharp turns during its development. At first, feared as a poisoner of livestock and later impugned as a carcinogen, selenium has about-faced and is now recognized as an essential micronutrient with anti-carcinogenic properties. While early studies on selenium have focused on the role of this trace element in animal physiology and studies with microorganisms, the field has matured to employ molecular biology to explain and employ the protective effects of selenium against a number of human maladies, including cancer and heart disease. The emphasis of this chapter is an examination of selenium’s early history as a toxin, its later recognition as an essential micronutrient in the diet of mammals and its impact in the livestock industry that provided the foundations for the vast amount of the current basic and health research on this fascinating element.
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