Nutrition by Design: Boosting Selenium Content and Fresh Matter Yields of Salad Greens With Preharvest Light Intensity and Selenium Applications

Xudong Zhu, Tianbao Yang, Charles A. Sanchez, Jeffrey M. Hamilton, Jorge M. Fonseca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Selenium (Se) is an essential mineral in multiple human metabolic pathways with immune modulatory effects on viral diseases including the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and HIV. Plant-based foods contain Se metabolites with unique functionalities for the human metabolism. In order to assess the value of common salad greens as Se source, we conducted a survey of lettuce commercially grown in 15 locations across the USA and Canada and found a tendency for Se to accumulate higher (up to 10 times) in lettuce grown along the Colorado river basin region, where the highest amount of annual solar radiation of the country is recorded. In the same area, we evaluated the effect of sunlight reduction on the Se content of two species of arugula [Eruca sativa (E. sativa) cv. “Astro” and Diplotaxis tenuifolia (D. tenuifolia) cv. “Sylvetta”]. A 90% light reduction during the 7 days before harvest resulted in over one-third Se decline in D. tenuifolia. The effect of light intensity on yield and Se uptake of arugula microgreens was also examined under indoor controlled conditions. This included high intensity (HI) (160 μ mol−2 s−1 for 12 h/12 h light/dark); low intensity (LI) (70 μ mol m−2 s−1 for 12 h/12 h light/dark); and HI-UVA (12 h light of 160 μ mol m−2 s−1, 2 h UVA of 40 μ mol m−2 s−1, and 10 h dark) treatments in a factorial design with 0, 1, 5, and 10 ppm Se in the growing medium. HI and HI-UVA produced D. tenuifolia plants with 25–100% higher Se content than LI, particularly with the two higher Se doses. The addition of Se produced a marked increase in fresh matter (>35% in E. sativa and >45% in D. tenuifolia). This study (i) identifies evidence to suggest the revision of food composition databases to account for large Se variability, (ii) demonstrates the potential of introducing preharvest Se to optimize microgreen yields, and (iii) provides the controlled environment industry with key information to deliver salad greens with targeted Se contents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number787085
JournalFrontiers in Nutrition
StatePublished - Jan 5 2022


  • arugula
  • leafy greens
  • lettuce
  • rocket
  • solar radiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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