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Ricin (Molecule of the Month for January 2003)

Castor beans (Ricinus communis)



Ricin is a protein toxin, which acts as a cellular poison and is readily produced from castor beans (Ricinus communis), which are found throughout the world. Making it easy to be used as a toxin by bioterrorists.

Naturally occurring cases of ricin involve ingestion of castor beans, by either animals or humans, and are marked by severe gastrointestinal symptoms, vascular collapse, and death.

As ricin is toxic by numerous exposure routes, however, its use by bioterrorists might involve poisoning of water or foodstuffs, inoculation via ricin-laced projectiles, or aerosolization of liquid ricin or lyophilized powder. Ricin was the toxin used in the assignation of Georgi Markov in 1969 in London by KGB agents.

When poisoned ricin would likely produce symptoms within 8 hours. Fever, cough, dyspnea, nausea, and chest tightness are followed by profuse sweating, the development of pulmonary edema, cyanosis, hypotension, and finally respiratory failure and circulatory collapse. Time to death would likely be 36-72 hours, depending on the dose received.

Picture of Ricin

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Ricin structure
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Picture of Ricin



Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for January 2003 )