Historical note During his travels in the 13th century, Marco Polo first reported what is thought to be selenium toxicity in grazing animals. He observed that certain grazing areas in China were associated with horses developing diseased hooves (Hendler et al 2001). It is now known that parts of China have the highest selenium soil concentrations in the world and diseased hooves were likely to be due to selenium toxicity. It was not until nearly 500 years later, in 1 81 7, that selenium was actually discovered (Tinggi 2003) and the fact that it is essential in mammals was not discovered until 1 957 (Navarro-Alarcon & Lopez-Martinez 2000). In 1 979, the importance of selenium in human nutrition was further reinforced when Chinese researchers reported that selenium supplementation prevented the development of Keshan disease, a cardiomyopathy seen in children living in selenium replete areas, and New Zealand workers reported a clinical response to selenium supplementation in a selenium-depleted patient (S hi Is et al 2006).

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