Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Identification and Quantification of Organic Selenium Species Produced by Microbiological Activity in Freshwater Environments
Despite being an essential nutrient at trace levels, selenium can be devastating to aquatic environments when present in excess. There is no apparent correlation between total aqueous selenium concentrations and observed toxic effects because bioaccumulation varies over several orders of magnitude depending on the chemical species of selenium and the biological species present in the lowest trophic level of the aquatic food chain. Despite being used in toxicity models due to its high bioavailability, free selenomethionine had not been found previously in the environment outside of a biological entity. Here, it is confirmed that selenomethionine is produced during the biological treatment of selenium-contaminated wastewater, and released in the effluent along with other discrete organic selenium species, including selenomethionine oxide. This identification followed the development of a rigorous preconcentration and cleanup procedure, allowing for the analysis of these organic selenium species in high-ionic strength matrices. A newly optimized anion-exchange chromatographic separation was coupled to inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry for the simultaneous quantification of these organic selenium species along with the more ubiquitous selenium oxyanions, selenite and selenate. This separation method was also coupled to electrospray tandem mass spectrometry for structural confirmation of selenomethionine and selenomethionine oxide. High resolution orbitrap mass spectrometry was used to identify another oxidation product of selenomethionine – a cyclic species which was tentatively identified, by coelution, in a selenium-contaminated river water sample. The production and release of selenomethionine, selenomethionine oxide, Se-(methyl) selenocysteine, and methyl selenic acid were observed for various laboratory algal cultures. Once the presence of free selenomethionine in a water system was confirmed, factors affecting its uptake into algal cultures were examined. The uptake of selenomethionine into Scenedesmus obliquus was noted to be significantly higher under low nitrate conditions, where it was incorporated into selenium-containing proteins more readily than at higher nitrate conditions where other metabolites were produced. With the increasing popularity of biological treatment systems for the remediation of selenium-contaminated waters, these observations, combined with existing knowledge, could be used to make predictions regarding the potential toxicity of selenium in various environmental scenarios. Author Keywords: bioremediation, electrospray mass spectrometry, inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry, selenium, selenoamino acids, selenomethionine

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