Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fast Ricin Detection – Is it Now Possible?

Ricin, a poison found in Castor beans is so potent that even if a small quantity, the size of a grain of salt, gets into your system can kill you. Now, if new research is to be believed, then scientists may have developed a new assay system that detects ricin fast and easy.

Perhaps the most popular incident of ricin poisoning is the 1978 assassination of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London. He was reportedly stabbed with an umbrella that lodged a small ricin-coated pellet into his leg that later killed him. With no known antidote available, ricin today, is also feared as a potential bio-terrorism agent.

Till now, scientists had a hard time detecting the toxin. Because it involved multi-step procedures that assessed whether certain compounds were stopping ricin from working or not. But now that may not be necessary.

The New Ricin Detection Assay System

The working of the assay is simple. To check the presence of ricin in suspect samples, they need to be put into a few drops of a mixture of reagents. If the mixture emits light, then ricin is present, else it isn't. Further, the brighter the light emitted or the greater is the luminescence, higher is the concentration of the toxin within the sample. This technique has been developed by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University (AECOM).

It may appear that ricin being a poison only has nefarious applications, but no, just like nuclear energy, which can be used to generate electricity or A-bombs. Ricin too can either be used to kill humans or potentially save them. Because it has been used an cancer drug to kill and destroy cancer cells, however, this research is still in its early stages.

Nevertheless, the new ricin detection assay system should be able arm scientists with the tools that can detect ricin in a jiffy and save lives.

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