Scientists solve ricin riddle using new technology

Dec 20, 2011
Scientists solve ricin riddle using new technology

A protein that controls how the deadly plant poison and bioweapon ricin kills has finally been identified by a team of Austrian researchers in a new study. With a combination of stem cell biology and modern screening methods, the team were able to get to the bottom of how the poison works.

One of the deadliest plant based poisons in the world, has frequently hit the headlines due to its association with terrorism. Everyone from Al Quaida to the United States Army in the has been reported to have tested ricin's potential as a chemical warfare agent.

And although it only takes a tiny amount of the poison to induce the onset of death within two to three days of entering the , this deadly poison can easily be bought down at your local market as it comes from the seemingly innocent castor oil bean, and until now no has been found.

Step in the Austrian team from the Institute for (IMBA) at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. These researchers have identified a called Gpr107 that is essential for the deadly effect of ricin. In other words, cells which lack Gpr107 are immune to the poison.

One of the researchers on the study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, Ulrich Elling comments: "Our research suggests that a specific antidote could now be developed by making a small molecule to block the Gpr107 protein."

As new technology means the entire mammal genome can now be screened for mutations quickly, researchers today can find out in a few weeks what scientists have been puzzling over for decades.

Normally screening methods focus on finding one single mutation by studying the effects of removing a single gene, technique that is not always efficient.

Josef Penninger comments on how their new technique could be a revolution in .

"We've now succeeded in combining the genetics of yeast, which has a single chromosome set that allows instant gene mutation, with . For decades researchers have been looking for a system in mammals which would allow scientists to reconstruct millions of gene mutations simultaneously. We have solved the puzzle and even broke a paradigm in biology - we managed to make stable mouse stem cells with a single set of chromosomes and developed novel tools to use such stem cells to rapidly check virtually all genes at the same time for a specific function. The possible uses of this discovery are endless. They range from fundamental issues, like which genes are necessary for the proper function of a heart muscle cell, to concrete applications as we have done in the case of ricin toxicity."

Explore further: Report on viruses looks beyond disease

More information: Elling, U., et al. (2011) Forward and Reverse Genetics through Derivation, of Haploid Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells. Cell Stem Cell. DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2011.10.012

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ricin's deadly action revealed by glowing probes

Aug 07, 2008

A new chemical probe can rapidly detect ricin, a deadly poison with no known antidote that is feared to be a potential weapon for terrorists and cannot quickly be identified with currently available tests.

What are protective effects of anti-ricin A-chain aptamer?

Dec 29, 2008

Ricin, a lectin from the castor bean plant Ricinus communis is considered one of the most potent plant toxins. Ricin poisoning can cause severe tissue damage and inflammation and can result in death. Most accidental exposures ...

Mammalian cells with single chromosome set created

Sep 07, 2011

Researchers have created mammalian cells containing a single set of chromosomes for the first time in research funded by the Wellcome Trust and EMBO. The technique should allow scientists to better establish ...

Targeting toxin trafficking

Jul 21, 2011

Toxins produced by plants and bacteria pose a significant threat to humans, as emphasized by the recent effects of cucumber-borne Shiga toxin in Germany. Now, new research published on July 21st by the Cell Press journal ...

Recommended for you

Report on viruses looks beyond disease

13 hours ago

In contrast to their negative reputation as disease causing agents, some viruses can perform crucial biological and evolutionary functions that help to shape the world we live in today, according to a new report by the American ...

A molecule's transformation filmed at high resolution

Jul 21, 2014

François Légaré's team at the INRS Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications Research Centre successfully imaged a chemical reaction with a spatial and temporal resolution greatly exceeding that obtained to date using microscopes. ...

User comments : 0