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J Toxicol Environ Health. 1988;24(4):477-90.

Embryotoxic and teratogenic effects of selenium in the diet of mallards.

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  • 1U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland 20708.


Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were fed a control diet, diets containing 1, 5, 10, or 25 ppm Se as sodium selenite, or a diet containing 10 ppm Se as seleno-DL-methionine in the first of two experiments. Selenium at 10 ppm as selenomethionine or 25 ppm as sodium selenite caused a 40-44% decrease in the total number of eggs that hatched compared to controls. Selenium at 25 ppm (sodium selenite) resulted in a 19% decrease in mean embryonic weight at 18 d of incubation, accompanied by a 6% decrease in crown-rump length. Ten parts per million Se as selenomethionine was more teratogenic than sodium selenite at 25 ppm. Selenomethionine (10 ppm Se) resulted in an incidence of 13.1% malformations that were often multiple, whereas sodium selenite (10 and 25 ppm Se) resulted in 3.6 and 4.2% malformations. The teratogenicity of selenomethionine was confirmed in a second experiment in which mallards received 1, 2, 4, 8, or 16 ppm Se as selenomethionine, resulting in 0.9, 0.5, 1.4, 6.8, and 67.9% malformations, respectively. These malformations included hydrocephaly, microphthalmia, lower bill defects, and foot defects with ectrodactyly. Both forms of selenium increased the incidence of edema and stunted embryonic growth. Selenomethionine (10 ppm Se) resulted in a significant increase of approximately 40% in plasma glutathione peroxidase activity and a 70% increase in sorbitol dehydrogenase activity (indicative of hepatotoxicity) in hatchlings. Sodium selenite (25 ppm Se) resulted in fourfold elevation in plasma uric acid concentration, indicative of renal alteration. Selenomethionine accumulated much better in eggs than did sodium selenite. These findings indicate that selenomethionine is considerably more teratogenic and generally more embryotoxic than sodium selenite, probably due to higher uptake of selenomethionine.

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