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High-selenium wheat: biofortification for better health

  • Graham Lyons (a1), James Stangoulis (a1) and Robin Graham (a1)

The metalloid Se is ubiquitous in soils, but exists mainly in insoluble forms in high-Fe, low-pH and certain leached soils, and hence is often of limited availability to plants. Consequently, it is often supplied by plants to animals and human consumers at levels too low for optimum health. Se deficiency and suboptimality are manifested in populations as increased rates of thyroid dysfunction, cancer, severe viral diseases, cardiovascular disease and various inflammatory conditions. Se deficiency probably affects at least a billion individuals. Optimal cancer protection appears to require a supra-nutritional Se intake, and involves several mechanisms, which include promotion of apoptosis and inhibition of neo-angiogenesis. Evidence suggests that in some regions Se is declining in the food chain, and new strategies to increase its intake are required. These could include education to increase consumption of higher-Se foods, individual supplementation, food fortification, supplementation of livestock, Se fertilisation of crops and plant breeding for enhanced Se accumulation. Se levels in Australian residents and wheat appear to be above the global estimated mean. Wheat is estimated to supply nearly half the Se utilised by most Australians. Increasing the Se content of wheat represents a food systems approach that would increase population intake, with consequent probable improvement in public health and large health cost savings. The strategies that show most promise to achieve this are biofortification by Se fertilisation and breeding wheat varieties that are more efficient at increasing grain Se density. Research is needed in Australia to determine the most cost-effective fertilisation methods, and to determine the extent of genetic variability for grain Se accumulation. Before recommending large-scale fortification of the food supply with Se, it will be necessary to await the results of current intervention studies with Se on cancer, HIV and AIDS, and asthma.

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*Corresponding author: Graham Lyons, fax +61 8 8303 7109, email
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Nutrition Research Reviews
  • ISSN: 0954-4224
  • EISSN: 1475-2700
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