Biological Aspects of Selenium in Farm Animals

  • Kim, Y.Y. (School of Agricultural Biotechnology, Seoul National University) ;
  • Mahan, D.C. (Dept. of Anim. Sci. The Ohio State University)
  • Published : 2003.03.01


In 1957, Schwarz and Foltz discovered that selenium (Se) was an essential trace mineral and nutritionists then started extensive studies to figure out the metabolic function of this element which has been called as toxic mineral. The discovery that glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px) contained Se demonstrated a biochemical role for Se as an essential trace element. The major physiological function of Se containing GSH-Px is thought to maintain low levels of $H_2O_2$ and other hydroperoxides in the cell to prevent tissues from peroxidation damages. It is known that the GSH-Px activity is increased when animals were fed high dietary levels of Se. Chemical properties of Se have much in common with sulfur (S) therefore Se would follow the sulfur pathways in its metabolism in animal body. Two sources of Se are available for supplementation of Se in animal feed. Inorganic Se can also exist in selenide (-2), elemental (0), selenite (+4) and selenate (+6) oxidation state with other minerals. When sulfur in S containing amino acids is replaced by Se, organic Se can be made and named "eleno"prior to the name of S containing amino acid, i.e. selenomethionine. Selenium deficiency affects humans as well as animals and dysfunctions such as exudative diathesis, retained placenta, mastitis, liver necrosis, Keshan disease, numerous diseases and cancer. From several centuries ago, Se toxicity was recognized in various animal species and much of the current toxic Se levels has been established largely based upon the controlled toxicity studies used inorganic Se. Toxic effects of Se in animal result in reduced feed intake, growth retardation, ataxia, diarrhea, alopecia and sloughing of hooves. However, several experiments demonstrated that Se deficiencies or toxicities were varied by dietary Se levels and sources. Recent studies demonstrated that the incidence of colorectal and prostate cancer was reduced by approximately 50% when humans consumed 200 ${\mu}g$ of Se daily.


  1. Alexander, A. R., and P. D. Whanger. 1983. Bioavailability of rats of selenium in various tuna and wheat products. J. Nutr. 113:196-204.
  2. Burk, R. F. 1983. Biological activity of selenium. Annu. Rev. Nutr. 3:53-70.
  3. Cantor, A. H., and M. L. Scott. 1974. The effect of Se in the hen's diet on egg production, hatchability, performance and progeny and Se content ration in eggs. Poult. Sci. 53:1870-1874.
  4. Cantor, A. H., M. L. Scott, and T. Noguchi. 1975b. Biological availability of selenium in feedstuffs and selenium compounds for prevention of exudative diathesis in chicks. J. Nutr. 105:96-105.
  5. Franke, K. W., and W. C. Tully. 1935. A new toxicant occurring naturally in certain samples of plant foodstuffs. V. Low hatchability due to deformities in chicks. Poult. Sci. 14:273-279.
  6. Ganther, H. E. 1986. Pathways of selenium metabolism including respiratory excretory products. J. Am. College Toxicol. 5:1-5.
  7. Goehring T. B., I. S. Palmer, O. E. Olson, G. W. Lival, and R. C. Wahlstrom. 1984b. Toxic effects of selenium on growing swine fed corn-soybean meal diets. J. Anim. Sci. 59:733-737.
  8. Hill, K. E., and R. F. Burk. 1982. Effect of selenium deficiency and vitamin E deficiency on glutathione metabolism in isolated rat hepatocytes. J. Biol. Chem. 257:10668-10672.
  9. Jones, D. P., L. Eklow, H. Thor, and S. Orrenius. 1981. Metabolism of hydrogen peroxide in isolated hepatocytes: relative contributions of catalase and glutathione peroxidase in decomposition of endogenously generated $H_2O_2$. Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 210:505-516.
  10. Kelly, M. P., and R. F. Power. 1995. Fractionation and identification of the major selenium compounds in selenized yeast. J. Dairy Sci. 78 (Suppl. 1):237.
  11. Kim, Y. Y. and D. C. Mahan. 2001a. Comparative effects of high dietary levels of organic and inorganic selenium on selenium toxicity of growing-finishing pigs. J. Anim. Sci. 79:942-948.
  12. Kim, Y. Y. and D. C. Mahan. 2001c. Effects of high levels of selenium-enriched yeast and sodium selenite on macro and micro mineral metabolism in grower-finisher swine. Asian-Aust. J. Anim. Sci. 14(2):243-249.
  13. Mahan, D. C., and P. L. Magee. 1991. Efficacy of dietary sodium selenite and calcium selenite provided in the diet at approved, marginally toxic, and toxic levels to growing swine. J. Anim. Sci. 69:4722-4725.
  14. Mertz, W., and E. J. Underwood. 1986. Trace elements in human and animal nutrition, Academic Press, Orlando, Fla. 5th ed. p. 205.
  15. Olson, O. E., and I. S. Palmer. 1976. Selenoamino acids in tissues of rats administered inorganic selenium. Metabolism 25:299-306.
  16. Prohaska, J. R., and H. E. Ganther. 1977. Glutathione peroxidase activity of glutathione S-transferases purified from rat liver. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 76:437-445.
  17. Singh, S. S., R. D. Murray, and W. R. Ward. 1992. Histopathological and morphometric studies on the hooves of dairy and beef cattle in relation to overgrown sole and laminitis. J. Comp. Pathol. 107:319-328.
  18. Trelease, S. F., and O. A. Beath. 1949. Selenium; Its geological occurrence and its biological effects in relation to botany, chemistry, agriculture, nutrition and medicine. The Champlain Printers, Burlington, VT.
  19. Wahlstrom, R. C., and O. E. Olson. 1959b. The relation of prenatal and pre-weaning treatment to the effect of arsenilic acid on selenium poisoning in weanling pigs. J. Anim. Sci. 18:578-582.
  20. Wahlstrom, R. C., T. B. Goehring, D. D. Johnson, G. W. Libal, O. E. Olson, I. S. Palmer, and R. C. Thaler. 1984. The relationship of hair color to selenium content of hair and selenosis in swine. Nutr. Rep. Int. 29:143-147.
  21. Underwood, E. J. 1977. Trace element in human and animal nutrition. 4th ed. Academic Press, London.
  22. Echevarria, M. G., P. R. Henry, C. B. Ammerman, P. V. Rao, and R. D. Miles. 1988b. Estimation of the relative bioavailability of inorganic selenium from high dietary selenium concentrations. Poult. Sci. 67:1585-1592.
  23. Folhe, L., W. A. Gunzler, and H. H. Schock. 1973. Glutathione peroxidase: a selenoenzyme. FFBS Lett. 32:132-134.
  24. Franke, K. W., A. L. Moxon, W. E. Poley, and W. C. Tully. 1936. A new toxicant occurring naturally in certain samples of plant foodstuffs. XII. Monstrosities produced by the injection of selenium salts into hens' eggs. Anat. Rec. 65:15-22.
  25. Harrison, L. H., B. M. Colvin, B. P. Stuart, L. T. Sangester, E. J. Gorgacz, and H. S. Gosser. 1983. Paralysis in swine due to focal symmetrical poliomalacia: Possible selenium toxicosis. Vet. Pathol. 20:265-273.
  26. Kim, Y. Y. and D. C. Mahan. 2001b. Prolonged feeding of high dietary levels of organic and inorganic selenium to gilts from 25kg body weight through one parity. J. Anim. Sci. 79:956-966.
  27. Mahan, D. C., and A. L. Moxon. 1984. Effect of inorganic selenium supplementation on selenosis in postweaning swine. J. Anim. Sci. 58:1216-1221.
  28. Ohlendorf, H. M. 1989. Bioaccumulation and effects of selenium wildlife. In: Selenium in agriculture and the environment.: Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI. pp.133-137.
  29. Rosenfeld, I., and O. A. Beath. 1964. Selenium . Ceobotany, Biochemistry, Toxicity and Nutrition. Academic Press New York. p. 411.
  30. Van Vleet, J. F., K. B. Meyer, and H. J. Olander. 1973. Control of vitamin E deficiency in growing swine by parenteral administration of selenium-vitamin E preparations to baby pigs or to pregnant sows and their baby pigs. J. Amer. Vet. Med. Ass. 163:452 –456.
  31. Burk, R. F., K. Patel, and J. M. Lane. 1982. Comparison of the direct and the doubled assay methods for glutathione peroxidase activity of rat liver. Nutr. Rep. Int. 26:97-104.
  32. Bartoli, G. M., and H. Sies. 1978. Reduced and oxidized glutathione efflux from liver. FEBS Lett. 86:89-91.
  33. Behne, D., C. W. Nowak, M. Kalckloshe, C. Westphal, H. Gessner, and A. Kyriakopoulos. 1994. Application of nuclear analytical methods in the investigation and identification of new selenoproteins. Biol. Trace Elem. Res. 46:287-297.
  34. Bird, S. M., P. C. Uden, J. F. Tyson, E. Block, and E. Denoyer. 1997. Speciation of selenoamino acids and organoselenium compounds in selenium-enriched yeast using highperformance liquid chromatography-inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. J. Anal. Atom. Spectrom. 12:785-788.
  35. Gabrielsen, B. O., and J. Opstvedt. 1980. Availability of selenium in fish meal in comparison with soybean meal, corn gluten meal and selenomethionine relative to selenium in sodium selenite for restoring glutathione peroxidase activity in selenium-depleted chicks. J. Nutr. 110:1096-1100.
  36. Henry, P. R., M. G. Echevarria, C. B. Ammerman, and P. V. Rao. 1988. Estimation of the relative biological availability of inorganic selenium source for ruminants using tissue uptake of selenium. J. Anim. Sci. 66:2306-2312.
  37. Levander, O. A. 1972. Metabolic interrelationships and adaptations in selenium toxicity. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 192:181.
  38. O'Toole, D., and M. F. Raisbeck. 1995. Pathology of experimentally induced chronic selenosis (alkali disease) in yearling cattle. J. Vet. Diagn. Invest. 7:364-373.
  39. Eklow, L., H. Thor, and S. Orrenius. 1981. Formation and efflux of glutathione disulfide studied in isolated rat hepatocytes. FEBS Lett. 127:125-128.
  40. Hill, K. E., R. F. Burk, and J. M. Lane. 1987. Effect of selenium depletion and repletion on plasma glutathione and glutathionedependent enzymes in the rat. J. Nutr. 117:99 –104.
  41. McCay, P. B., D. D. Gibson, K. L. Fong, and K. R. Hornbrook. 1976. Effect of glutathione peroxidase activity on lipid peroxidation in biological membranes. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 431:459-468.
  42. Rotruck, J. T., A. L. Pope, H. E. Ganther, A. B. Swanson, D. G. Hafeman, and W. G. Hoekstra. 1973. Selenium; Biochemical role as a component of glutathione peroxidase. Science 179 :588-590.
  43. Benavides, S. T., and F. S. Mojica. 1965. Selenosis, 2nd Ed. Instituto Geografico Augustin Codazzi, Bogota, Columbia.
  44. Diehl, J. S., D. C. Mahan, and A. L. Moxon. 1975. Effects of single intramuscular injections of selenium at various levels to young swine. J. Anim. Sci. 44:844-850.
  45. Echevarria, M. G., P. R. Henry, C. B. Ammerman, and P. V. Rao. 1988a. Effects of time and dietary selenium concentration as sodium selenite on tissue selenium uptake by sheep. J. Anim. Sci. 66:2299-2305.
  46. Burk, R. F., and R. A. Lawrence. 1978. Non selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidase: In Functions of Glutathione in Liver and Kidney. ed. H, Sies, A. Wendel, pp. 114- 119 Berlin, Springer.
  47. Djujic, I., M. Mandic, O. Jozanov-Stankov, M. Demajo, and M. M. Vrvic. 1995. Effects of selenium-enriched yeast on microelement content in rat tissues; In Conference on Selenium. Scientific Meetings Belgrade. pp.105-113.
  48. Ewan, R. C., and M. E. Wastell. 1970. Effect of vitamin E and selenium on blood composition of the young pig. J. Anim. Sci. 31:343-350.
  49. Franke, K. W. 1934. A new toxicant occurring naturally in certain samples of plant foodstuffs. I. Results obtained in preliminary feeding trials. J. Nutr. 8:597-607.
  50. Goehring T. B., I. S. Palmer, O. E. Olson, G. W. Lival, and R. C. Wahlstrom. 1984a. Effects of seleniferous grains and inorganic selenium on tissue and blood composition and growth performance of rats and swine. J. Anim. Sci. 59:725-732.
  51. Kinder, L. L., C. R. Angel, and N. B. Anthony. 1995. Apparent selenium toxicity in Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae). Avian Diseases 39:652-657.
  52. Ort, J. F., and J. D. Latshaw. 1978. The toxic level of sodium selenite in the diet of laying chickens. J. Nutr. 108:1114-1120.
  53. Xu, G. L., and A. T. Diplock. 1983. Glutathione peroxidase (EC glutathione-S-transferase (EC, superoxide dismutase (EC and catalase (EC activities in tissues of ducklings deprived of Vit E and Selenium. Br. J. Nutr. 50:437 – 444.
  54. Arthur, J. R., F. Nicol, and G. J. Beckett. 1990. Hepatic iodothyronini 5'-deiodinase. Biochem. J. 272:537-540.
  55. Franke, K. W., and V. R. Potter. 1934. A new toxicant occurring naturally in certain samples of plant foodstuffs. III. Hemoglobin levels observed in white rats which were fed toxic wheat. J. Nutr. 8:615 – 624.
  56. Kim, Y. S., and G. F. Combs, Jr. 1992. Effects of aurothioglucose and dietary Se on glutathione S-transferase activities and glutathione concentrations in chick tissues. Biol. Trace Elem. Res. 37:165-177.
  57. Nogucht, T., M. L. Langevin, and G. F. Combs. 1973. Mode of action of Se and Vitamin E in prevention of exudative diathesis in chicks. J. Nutr. 103:1502-1508.
  58. Scott, M. L., G. Olson, L. Krook, and W. R. Brown. 1967. Se requirement for turkey poults. J. Nutr. 91:573-578.
  59. Sies, H. and K. M. Moss. 1978. A role of mitochondrial glutathione peroxidase in modulating mitochondrial oxidations in liver. Eur. J. Biochem. 84:377-385.
  60. Wahlstrom, R. C., and O. E. Olson. 1959a. The effect of selenium on reproduction in swine. J. Anim. Sci. 18:141-146.
  61. Mahan, D. C., J. E. Jones, J. H. Cline, R. F. Cross, H. S. Taegue, and A. P. Grifo, Jr. 1973b. Efficacy of selenium and vitamin E injections in the prevention of white muscle disease in young swine. J. Anim. Sci. 36:1104-1108.
  62. Pierce, S., and A. L. Tappel. 1978. Glutathione peroxidase activities from rat liver. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 523:27-36.
  63. Schwarz, K., and C. M. Foltz. 1957. Se as an integral part of factor against dietary liver degeneration. J. Am. Chem. Society 79:3292-3296.
  64. Bennett, B. G. 1983. Exposure of man to environmental selenium- An exposure commitment assessment. Sci. Total Environ., 31:117-127.
  65. Meyer, W. R., D. C. Mahan, and A. L. Moxon. 1981. Value of dietary selenium and vitamin E for weanling swine as measured by performance and tissue selenium and glutathione peroxidase activities. J. Anim. Sci. 52:302-311.
  66. Ohlendorf, H. M., R. L. Hothem, C. M. Bunck, T. W. Aldrich, and J. F. Moore. 1986. Relationships between selenium concentrations and avian reproduction. Trans. 51st North Am. Wild. Nat. Resour. Conf. 340-342.
  67. Kiremidjian-Schumacher, L., M. Roy, H. I. Wishe, M. W. Cohen, and G. Stotzky. 1994. Supplementation with selenium and human immune cell functions: II. Effect on cytotoxic lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Biol. Trace Elem. Res. 41:115-127.
  68. Latshaw, J. D. 1975. Natural and selenite selenium in the hen and egg. J. Nutr. 105:32-37.
  69. Cantor, A. H., M. L. Langevin, T. Noguchi, and M. L. Scott. 1975a. Efficacy of selenium in selenium compounds and feedstuffs for prevention of pancreatic fibrosis in chicks. J. Nutr. 105:106-111.
  70. Combs, G. F. Jr., and S. B. Combs. 1986. The role of selenium in nutrition. Academic Press Inc. New York. pp. 205-263, 502-525.
  71. Bem, E. M. 1981. Determination of selenium in the environment and in biological material. Environmental Health Perspectives 37:183-200.
  72. Poulsen, H. D., V. Danielsen, T. K. Nielsen, and C. Wolstrup. 1989. Excessive dietary selenium to primiparous sows and their offspring; I. Influence on reproduction and growth. Acta Vet. Scand. 30 (4):371-378.
  73. Sies, H., C. Gerstenecker, H. Menzel, and L. Flohe. 1972. Oxidation in the NADP system and release of GSSG from hemoglobin-free rat liver during peroxidatic oxidation of glutathione by hydroperoxides. FFBS Lett. 27:171-175.
  74. Ammerman, C. B., and S. M. Miller. 1975. Selenium in ruminant nutrition: A review. J. Dairy Sci. 58 :1561-1577.
  75. Hafeman, D. G., R. A. Sunde, and W. G. Hoekstra. 1974. Effect of dietary selenium on erythrocyte and liver glutathione peroxidase in the rat. J. Nutr. 104:580-587.
  76. Mahan, D. C. 1995. Selenium metabolism in animals: what role does selenium yeast have? ; In Biotechnology in the feed industry- Proceedings of Alltech' Eleventh Annual Symposium. Nottingham University Press. United Kingdom. pp. 257-267.
  77. Orstadium, K. 1960. Toxicity of a single subcutaneous dose of sodium selenite in pigs. Nature 188:1117.
  78. Read, R., T. Bellew, J. G. Yang, K. E. Hill, I. S. Palmer, and R. F. Burk. 1990. Selenium and amino acid composition of selenoprotein P, the major selenoprotein in rat serum. J. Biol. Chem. 265:17899-17905.
  79. Schwarz, K. 1976. Essentiality and metabolic functions of selenium. Med. Clin. North America 60 (4):745-757 .
  80. Shibata, Y., M. Masatoshi, and K. Fuwa. 1992. Selenium and arsenic in biology: Their chemical forms and biological functions. Adv. Biophys. 28:31-80.
  81. Lawrence, R. A., L. K. Parkhill, R. F. Burk. 1978. Hepatic cytosolic non selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidase activity: its nature and the effect of selenium deficiency. J. Nutr. 108:981-987.
  82. Moxon, A. L., and D. C. Mahan. 1981. Toxic dietary selenium levels for weaning swine. In: J. McDowell, J. M. Gawthrone and C. L. White (Ed.) Trace Element Metabolism in Man and Animals. Springer-Verlag, New York. pp. 471-474.
  83. Shortridge, E. H., P. J. O'Hara, and P. M. Marshall. 1971. Acute selenium poisoning in cattle. New Zealand Vet. J. 19:47-50.
  84. Lawrence, R. A., and R. F. Burk. 1978. Species, tissue and subcellular distribution of non Se-dependent glutathione peroxidase. J. Nutr. 108:211-215.
  85. Miller, W. T., and K. T. Williams. 1940. Minimum lethal dose of selenium as sodium selenite for horses, mules, cattle, and swine. J. Agric. Res. 60 (1940):163-173.
  86. Moxon, A. L. 1937. Alkali disease or selenium poisoning. In: Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin, South Dakota State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. Brookings, South Dakota. Bulletin 311, pp. 22-87.
  87. Thomson K. G., and A. J. Fraser. 1983. Glutathione peroxidase activity and selenium concentration in blood and liver as measures of the selenium status of cattle. Proc of the 2nd New Zealand Seminar on trace elements and health (abstract); 54.
  88. Chow, C. K., and A. L. Tappel. 1974. Response of glutathione peroxidase to dietary selenium in rats. J. Nutr. 104:444-451.
  89. Bartholomew, A., D. Latshaw, and D. E. Swayne. 1998. Changes in blood chemistry, hematology, and histology caused by a selenium/vitamin E deficiency and recovery in chicks. Biol. Trace Elem. Res. 62:7-16.
  90. Lawrence, R. A., and R. F. Burk. 1976. Glutathione peroxidase activity in selenium deficient rat liver. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 71:952-958.
  91. Hawkes, W. C., E. C. Wihelmsen, and A. L. Tappel. 1985. Abundance and tissue distribution of selenocysteinecontaining proteins in the rat. J. Inorg. Biochem. 23:77-92.
  92. Thompson, J. H., and M. L. Scott. 1970. Impaired lipid and vitamin E absorption related to atrophy of the pancreas in selenium-deficient chicks. J. Nutr. 100:797-809.

Cited by

  1. Selenomethionine: an Effective Selenium Source for Sow to Improve Se Distribution, Antioxidant Status, and Growth Performance of Pig Offspring vol.142, pp.3, 2011,
  2. Effect of Different Selemethionine Forms and Levels on Performance of Breeder Hens and Se Distribution of Tissue and Egg Inclusion vol.143, pp.2, 2011,
  3. Antioxidant Trace Elements in Serum of Draft Horses with Acute and Chronic Lower Airway Disease vol.150, pp.1-3, 2012,
  4. Productivity and Selenium Concentrations in Egg and Tissue of Laying Quails Fed Selenium from Hydroponically Produced Selenium-Enriched Kale Sprout (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra L.) vol.155, pp.3, 2013,
  5. Effect of different sources and levels of selenium on performance, meat quality, and tissue characteristics of broilers vol.23, pp.1, 2014,
  6. Selenium supplementation affects broiler growth performance, meat yield and feather coverage vol.45, pp.5, 2004,
  7. Effects of selenium source and level in diet on glutathione peroxidase activity, tissue selenium distribution, and growth performance in poultry vol.19, pp.02, 2018,