Let’s Talk About Ricin from the Ricinus communis plant!

Today my mind has been jumping around, it’s exam time, lots and lots of deadlines have come knocking at the door! Then suddenly the idea of Ricin popped into my head, as I wrote my cherry blossom tree blogpost! So, you know if you have an enemy or something– I’m joking, it would be seriously messed up if you decide to use ricin in any way, shape or form to do something to someone. Disclaimer: this is for educational purposes only, we don’t want anyone getting hurt! 

 

ricin

A picture of x-ray crystallography of ricin molecule.

Ricin is one of the most toxic plant-derived secondary metabolites in the world! A secondary metabolite is a non-essential macromolecule to an organism, in this case, it’s the castor plant, Ricinus communis! Although ricin is found in trace amounts throughout the plant, it is most concentrated in within the “beans” of the plant, the castor bean is not a true bean as these seeds do not grow in pods, but within a fruit. This plant is native to the Mediterranean, parts of East Africa and  India.

 

1024px-ricinus_communis_dsc_0022

A picture of Ricinus communis with fruit

 

 

How does this lethal compound affect the body?

The biochemistry behind ricin relies on type 2 ribosome-inactivating protein called RIP (I don’t think this is a coincidence at all), which are also known as holotoxins consisting of 2 heterodimeric proteins. Type 2 RIPs consist of 2 chains A and B, where the B chain is responsible for the mediation of the movement of the A-B protein complex from the cell surface to the endoplasmic reticulum through vesicle movement. These holotoxins inhibit the functionality of the ribosome, resulting in the shutdown of cells due to the failure of protein synthesis. Type 2 RIPs are notorious for their cytotoxicity due to their mimicry of lectin-like proteins on the B chain leading to a cascade of biochemical reaction on the ribosome leading to depurination, loss of the production/assemblage of some amino acids and subsequently the death of the cell.

 

castor_beans1

A picture of Ricinus communis beans.

 

How toxic is ricin?

It is very toxic, it can be very lethal if this compound is inhaled, injected or ingested in the purest form, even if it is touched (absorption). Consuming some of the seeds can prove fatal. Ingestion of this compound can lead to vomiting, nausea,  and abdominal pain within 6-12 hours of consumption. Past 12 hours doesn’t look too good, severe dehydration occurs, and kidney and liver failure are also common cases. The lethal dose is 1 milligram per kilogram of body weight. Inhalation has much faster effects within 4-6 hours leading to loss of respiratory function and can result in fluid accumulation in the lungs and to complete loss of respiration within 24 hours. The lethal dose for inhalation is 1.78 milligrams. Injection of ricin may cause almost immediate effects, and cell failure, 22 micrograms per kilogram of body weight is the lethal dose! In the purest form, a few table salt sized grains can easily kill an adult human. There is a known antidote for this plant, but it is in clinical trials currently.

The bottom line is, stay away from any ricin extract and avoid consumption of castor beans; if you’re ever handling them.

Here’s a cool link to some ricin murders!

Until next time, Barry out!

For more information, check these links out and use the Wikipedia sources!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricin

https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/ricin/qa.asp

http://www.biology-online.org/articles/ricin/mode-action.html

http://www.biochemj.org/content/136/3/813

https://web.archive.org/web/20110927092634/http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/utsw/cda/dept37389/files/271161.htmlhttps://web.archive.org/web/20110927092634/http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/utsw/cda/dept37389/files/271161.html

 

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About bkallay22

I am a second-third year Biomedical Sciences major at York University.
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