The plant toxin ricin is one of the most poisonous naturally occurring proteins, making it an extremely dangerous bioweapon. Scientists have been searching for an effective ricin antidote for decades. However, cytotoxins like ricin also provide important insights into the molecular characteristics of cells, such as the contact points the poison uses to enter cells.
IMBA researchers have now discovered that sugar is a key factor. The researchers identified two genes that make ricin so lethal. Fut9 and Slc35c1 regulate metabolism of a particular sugar in cells, an essential monosaccharide called fucose.
This post has little to do with the castor industry and more with a fascinating aspect of castor seeds – the fact that they look rather cool while at the same time containing ricin.
Came across an interesting news item on this – a bunch of students in Canada mistook castor seeds for lychee seeds and consumed them.
Now, it is not exactly easy to consume castor seeds – they are really tasty, that is for sure – but somehow these lads had consumed them. Thankfully, everything ended well after this mistake was discovered early and the students were treated.
But it once again throws light one of the very few concerns that folks have with the castor crop – its poisonous seeds.
Many times, I ask about this to farmers in India who grow castor and they say that they rarely if ever have heard of any humans eating these by accident and falling ill or worse. In fact, they mention that even animals do not eat them as these are not edible seeds and the animals sense that these seeds are not good. (even if you ingest them accidentally, the ricin takes effect only if you chew and masticate the seeds)
So, overall one can perhaps say that the castor seeds in theory seem to pose some danger but unless used intentionally (and they have been – see here and here), its ricin seems to have done little damage so far.
How the students mistook castor seeds for lychee seeds is a bit intriguing, though I must say the seeds do have some similarities
Castor Seed Images – Image 1 & Image 2
Lychee Seed Images – Image 1 & Image 2