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The Biology of Selenium

Just Cause and Effect

All our research suggests the biology of selenium is unique.

The worst thing about writing a science book like Just Cause and Effect- Selenium Deficiency in New Zealand is the science does not stay still. The best part, is receiving the updates as that science advances.

This month we received a doozy from Science magazine about a study that, for the first time, illustrates just how selenium works in the body.

It turns out selenium is first encapsulated within selenocysteine (Sec), an essential amino acid. From there it is incorporated into 25 so-called selenoproteins, all of them key to a host of cellular and metabolic processes that perform a wide range functions necessary for growth and development.

They produce nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA. They break down or store fat for energy. They create cell membranes. They produce the thyroid hormone, which controls the metabolism. And they respond to oxidative stress by detoxifying chemically reactive byproducts in cells.

Paul Copeland, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and co-author of the precisely named Structure of the mammalian ribosome as it decodes the selenocysteine UGA codon paper said: “This work revealed structures that had never before been seen, some of which are unique in all of biology.”

He said diseases and disorders like cancer, heart disease, male infertility, diabetes and hypothyroidism can arise when the production of selenoproteins is disrupted. Understanding the workings of these vital mechanisms in such a detailed manner is critical to the development of new medical therapies.

Good, forward, looking stuff – and if you want to know why that’s so exiting, read Just Cause and Effect – selenium deficiency in New Zealand – if you only read one book this year, this should be it.