Isotope fractionation of selenium during fungal biomethylation by alternaria alternata

Kathrin Schilling, Thomas Martin Johnson, Wolfgang Wilcke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The natural abundance of stable Se isotopes may reflect sources and formation conditions of methylated Se. We aimed at (1) quantifying the degree of methylation of selenate [Se(VI)] and (hydro)selenite [Se(IV)] by the fungus Alternaria alternata at pH 4 and 7 and (2) determining the effects of these different Se sources and pH values on 82Se/76Se ratios (δ82/76Se) in methylselenides. Alternaria alternata was incubated with Se(VI) and Se(IV) in closed microcosms for 11-15 days and additionally with Se(IV) for 3-5 days at 30 °C. We determined Se concentrations and δ82/76Se values in source Se(VI) and Se(IV), media, fungi, and trapped methylselenides. In Se(VI) incubations, methylselenide volatilization ended before the 11th day, and the amounts of trapped methylselenide were not significantly different among the 11-15 day incubations. In 11-15 days, 2.9-11% of Se(VI) and 21-29% of Se(IV) were methylated, and in 3-5 days, 3-5% of Se(IV) was methylated. The initial δ82/76Se values of Se(VI) and Se(IV) were -0.69 ± SD 0.07°, and -0.20 ± 0.05°, respectively. The δ 82/76Se values of methylselenides differed significantly between Se(VI) (-3.97° to -3.25°) and Se(IV) (-1.44° to -0.16°) as sources after 11-15 days of incubation; pH had little influence on δ82/76Se values. Thus, the δ82/76Se values of methylselenide indicate the source species of methylselenides used in this study. The strong isotope fractionation of Se(VI) is probably attributable to the different reduction steps of Se(VI) to Se(-II) which were rate-limiting explaining the low methylation yields, but not to the methylation itself. The shorter incubation of Se(IV) for 3-5 days showed a large Se isotope fractionation of at least -6° before the biomethylation reaction reached its end. This initial Se isotope fractionation during methylation of Se(IV) is much larger than previously published.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2670-2676
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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