Exploring the structural basis for selenium/mercury antagonism in Allium fistulosum

David H. McNear, Scott E. Afton, Joseph A. Caruso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


While continuing efforts are devoted to studying the mutually protective effect of mercury and selenium in mammals, few studies have investigated the mercury-selenium antagonism in plants. In this study, we report the metabolic fate of mercury and selenium in Allium fistulosum (green onion) after supplementation with sodium selenite and mercuric chloride. Analysis of homogenized root extracts via capillary reversed phase chromatography coupled with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (capRPLC-ICP-MS) suggests the formation of a mercury-selenium containing compound. Micro-focused synchrotron X-ray fluorescence mapping of freshly excised roots show Hg sequestered on the root surface and outlining individual root cells, while Se is more evenly distributed throughout the root. There are also discrete Hg-only, Se-only regions and an overall strong correlation between Hg and Se throughout the root. Analysis of the X-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES) spectra show a "background" of methylselenocysteine within the root with discrete spots of SeO 3 2-, Se 0 and solid HgSe on the root surface. Mercury outlining individual root cells is possibly binding to sulfhydryl groups or plasma membrane or cell wall proteins, and in some places reacting with reduced selenium in the rhizosphere to form a mercury(ii) selenide species. Together with the formation of the root-bound mercury(ii) selenide species, we also report on the formation of cinnabar (HgS) and Hg 0 in the rhizosphere. The results presented herein shed light on the intricate chemical and biological processes occurring within the rhizosphere that influence Hg and Se bioavailability and will be instrumental in predicting the fate and assisting in the remediation of these metals in the environment and informing whether or not fruit and vegetable food selection from aerial plant compartments or roots from plants grown in Hg contaminated soils, are safe for consumption.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-276
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (all)


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