Selenium accumulation protects Brassica juncea from invertebrate herbivory and fungal infection


Author for correspondence: Elizabeth A.H. Pilon-Smits Tel: +1 970 491 4991 Fax: +1 970 491 0649 Email:


  • • Certain plant species hyperaccumulate selenium (Se) up to 0.6% of their dry weight. It is not known whether Se hyperaccumulation offers the plants any advantage. In this study the hypothesis was tested that Se can protect plants from invertebrate herbivory or fungal infection.
  • • Indian mustard (Brassica juncea) plants grown with or without Se were subjected to herbivory by caterpillars (Pieris rapae) and snails (Mesodon ferrissi), or to fungal infection by a root/stem pathogen (Fusarium sp.) and a leaf pathogen (Alternaria brassicicola).
  • • When given a choice between leaves with or without Se (0.1% Se of leaf d. wt), the caterpillars strongly preferred leaves without Se (P < 0.01), while the snails preferred leaves containing Se (P < 0.015). When consumed, the Se leaves were lethal to the caterpillars. The snails showed no toxicity symptoms, even though their tissue Se concentrations were comparable with the caterpillars. Se-containing plants were less susceptible to infection by both fungi.
  • • In conclusion, Se was shown to protect Indian mustard plants from fungal infection and from herbivory by caterpillars, but not by snails.