The organ-specific accumulation, spatial distribution, and chemical speciation of selenium (Se) were previously unknown for any species of cactus. We investigated Se in Opuntia ficus-indica using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, microfocused x-ray fluorescence elemental and chemical mapping (μXRF), Se K-edge x-ray absorption near-edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy, and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS). μXRF showed Se concentrated inside small conic, vestigial leaves (cladode tips), the cladode vasculature, and the seed embryos. Se K-edge XANES demonstrated that approximately 96% of total Se in cladode, fruit juice, fruit pulp, and seed is carbon-Se-carbon (C-Se-C). Micro and bulk XANES analysis showed that cladode tips contained both selenate and C-Se-C forms. Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry quantification of Se in high-performance liquid chromatography fractions followed by LC-MS structural identification showed selenocystathionine-to-selenomethionine (SeMet) ratios of 75:25, 71:29, and 32:68, respectively in cladode, fruit, and seed. Enzymatic digestions and subsequent analysis confirmed that Se was mainly present in a “free” nonproteinaceous form inside cladode and fruit, while in the seed, Se was incorporated into proteins associated with lipids. μXRF chemical mapping illuminated the specific location of Se reduction and assimilation from selenate accumulated in the cladode tips into the two LC-MS-identified C-Se-C forms before they were transported into the cladode mesophyll. We conclude that Opuntia is a secondary Se-accumulating plant whose fruit and cladode contain mostly free selenocystathionine and SeMet, while seeds contain mainly SeMet in protein. When eaten, the organic Se forms in Opuntia fruit, cladode, and seed may improve health, increase Se mineral nutrition, and help prevent multiple human cancers.
Plant Physiology (2011) 105 (1) 315-327 [doi: 10.1104/pp.110.162867]