Bacteria Versus Selenium: A View from the Inside Out

Part of the Plant Ecophysiology book series (KLEC, volume 11)


Bacteria and selenium (Se) are closely interlinked as the element serves both essential nutrient requirements and energy generation functions. However, Se can also behave as a powerful toxicant for bacterial homeostasis. Conversely, bacteria play a tremendous role in the cycling of Se between different environmental compartments, and bacterial metabolism has been shown to participate to all valence state transformations undergone by Se in nature. Bacteria possess an extensive molecular repertoire for Se metabolism. At the end of the 1980s, a novel mode of anaerobic respiration based on Se oxyanions was experimentally documented for the first time. Following this discovery, specific enzymes capable of reducing Se oxyanions and harvesting energy were found in a number of anaerobic bacteria. The genes involved in the expression of these enzymes have later been identified and cloned. This iterative approach undertaken outside-in led to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of Se transformations in bacteria. Based on the extensive knowledge accumulated over the years, we now have a full(er) view from the inside out, from DNA-encoding genes to enzymes and thermodynamics. Bacterial transformations of Se for assimilatory purposes have been the object of numerous studies predating the investigation of Se respiration. Remarkable contributions related to the understating of the molecular picture underlying seleno-amino acid biosynthesis are reviewed herein. Under certain circumstances, Se is a toxicant for bacterial metabolism and bacteria have evolved strategies to counteract this toxicity, most notably by the formation of elemental Se (nano)particles. Several biotechnological applications, such as the production of functional materials and the biofortification of crop species using Se-utilizing bacteria, are presented in this chapter.


Selenium Bacteria Anaerobic respiration Selenium detoxification Selenoenzymes 



R.S.O. is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey National Research Program. Mention of any brand name products does not constitute an endorsement by the USGS. The authors would like to acknowledge Elizabeth Pilon-Smits (Colorado State University) for helpful comments.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Applied Chemistry and Materials ScienceUniversity Politehnica of BucharestBucharestRomania
  2. 2.US Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA
  3. 3.Laboratory of Applied Molecular Microbiology, Department of BiotechnologyCollege of Life Sciences, Ritsumeikan UniversityKusatsuJapan

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