Students Mistake Castor Seed for Lychee Seed, Treated for Ricin

Castor-Oil-Seeds2This 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

Genetic Engineering Methods to Overcome Toxicity Challenges in Castor Industry

The toxicity of castor, in the form of ricin, is one of the key challenges that is slowing the adoption of castor as a crop in some countries, especially in the developed parts.

Toxicity challenges in castor industry can be overcome through genetic engineering.

An example of this is the Genetic Engineering of Lesquerella fendleri for castor oil production.

  • Seed oil of Lesquerella fendleri (Lf) contains a valuable hydroxy fatty acid (HFA), lesquerolic acid (20:1OH).
  • Lf does not have biological toxic compounds, thus its oil represents an alternative source of HFA. Lesquerolic acid is derived by a 2 carbon elongation of 18:1OH.
  • By suppressing the elongation step through genetic engineering, it is possible to generate a new Lf crop that could produce 18:1OH.

Novo Synthetix, USA has followed the genetic engineering technique in castor such that it no longer produces ricin. No new DNA is introduced, mainly tweaking of genes.