Review of ricin toxicity

December 21, 2011, 1:48 am

Castor beans


Understanding Ricin from a Defensive Viewpoint. Griffiths GD. Toxins 2011 Nov;3:1373-92.

Full text 

Over 100 million tons of castor beans (Ricin cummunis) are processes yearly in the manufacture of lubricants (e.g., Castrol Motor Oil), paints and varnishes, synthetic fabrics and medicinal products. Mash that remains after oil is extract from the beans contains ricin, theoretically one of the most toxic substances in nature.

Ricin is composed of two peptide chains linked by a sulfide bridge. The B-peptide binds to receptors on cell surfaces, allowing the toxic A-peptide to enter and kill the cell by shutting down protein synthesis. Surprisingly, despite its toxicity, ricin has been responsible for few if any deaths reported in the medical literature.

This review, from the Defense Science and technology Laboratory in Porton Down (U.K.), is so heavy on the science of ricin — lots of animal studies, histopathology, and chemical analysis — that it may be of limited use to clinicians. Nevertheless, for those with an interest in the possibility that ricin might be turned into a biological weapon, the article in worth reading and makes an important point:

It is a large step from preparing a poisonous mixture from castor beans, to delivering this material in a suitable form, on a large enough scale, to cause harm to a number of target subjects.

The fact that ricin as never been used as a mass terror weapon — despite its abundance — is a measure of how difficult this process really is.

To read my 2004 Emergency Medicine News column on ricin, click here.

Tip o’ the hat to The Poison Garden website for bringing this article to my attention.

NY Times gets it wrong on ricin


Ricin: weapon of mass destruction, or distraction?

I:s ricin a weapon of mass destruction?

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