Philip D. Whanger, Ph.D.


Professor of Agricultural Chemistry


The primary focus of my research is on selenium nutrition and biochemistry. Selenium deficiency in lambs and calves results in a metabolic disorder called white muscle disease, which is characterized by an accumulation of calcium in the cardiac and skeletal muscles.

In humans, selenium deficiency in discrete areas of China results in a cardiac disorder called Keshan disease. Also, patients on long term parenteral nutrition will develop muscle cramps unless selenium is added to the infusion solutions. Thus, selenium appears essential for maintaining proper cardiac and muscle metabolism. Additionally, a small selenoprotein whose deficiency impairs animal health has also been shown to be present in human heart and muscle tissue. Just as selenium deficiency in animals can be eliminated by supplementing the diets with selenium, the addition of this element to table salt in China has eliminated Keshan disease. Our research continues on how selenium is involved in prevention of disorders in the heart and muscle. Both animal and human cell cultures will be used in this assessment.

Recently, we have collaborated in studies on the relationship of selenium and carcinogenesis. Supernutritional levels of selenium have been shown to inhibit chemically induced tumors in animals, and some preliminary evidence indicates that selenium could also inhibit certain cancers in humans. Plants such as garlic, onions, and broccoli incorporate high amounts of selenium from the soil when it is added with fertilizer. These selenium-enriched vegetables have been shown to reduce the incidence of tumors in rats given carcinogens. Identification of the particular beneficial selenocompounds in these plants is presently under investigation.

Last updated November, 1996

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