What is Ricin?

Ricin is a poisonous substance, ricin origin from natural source castor beans. The botanical name of castor beans is Ricinus communis, which belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family. Ricin is made from waste materials left over from castor oil. Nowadays ricin is available in form of powder, mist, pellets. This has the ability to get dissolved in water and weak acids. 

Ricin Chemical Formula

The chemical properties of pure ricin are listed here. It has a molecular weight of 65-750 daltons. This is glycoproteic in nature. Each mole of ricin is in oses composition, that is 15 moles of mannose and 8 moles of N-acetyl-glucosamine per mole of ricin. It has a bi-catenary amino acid structure. The toxin is formed by two polypeptide A and B chains linked together with a disulfide bond. 

Ricin Toxicity

The ricin extracted from castor seeds is purified and stored in the form of white powder. Ricin powder is can manufacture even from the waste materials generated during the production of castor oil. Purified ricin powder can enter the body through inhalation, ricin injection, or ingestion.  The person who swallowed ricin poison feels early symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea, this may lead to dehydration.  If the person gets seriously affected by ricin toxin they may have seizures, liver failure, hallucinations, and renal failure. This can be absorbed within 72 hours of ingestion. 


If the person inhales ricin will feel symptoms like breathing illness, tightness in the chest, cough, and nausea. In severe ricin poisoning cases of inhalation may lead to respiratory failure, fluid accumulation in the lungs and can cause death within 36 - 72 hours. 


If the person gets ricin toxin in the form of injection, it forms clumps in red blood cells. This turns to destructure the red cells, this is known as hemolysis. This produces symptoms like ricin ingestion.  The formation of clumps in red blood cells is known as agglutination. Even a very small dosage of intaking ricin in the form of injection or inhalation is enough to cause death. 


This is mainly because the routes of toxin exposure enter immediately into the bloodstream and get distributed rapidly throughout the body.  


The ricin toxicity mainly depends on the substance’s ability to inhibit protein synthesis and ability to stimulate cells to undergo programmed death. When the cells enter the body, the ricin toxin readily takes up the cells under programmed death conditions. The method of cells undergoing programmed death is known as apoptosis. This starts producing the symptoms as given above within 1 hour of consumption. The research based on ricin shows that the preferable low dosage of ricin has the capability to bring cancer cells under apoptosis. They start suggesting ricin as an anticancerous agent. 


To find the ricin toxicity in the human body, can use blood or urine samples to find the poisonous content. This test requires more time to detect the poisonous substance in the body. But the period to reach the severe stage may cross before finding results. In addition, there is no antidote available in the market to treat ricin poisons. 


If doctors diagnosed the intake of ricin within 1 hour, they can treat it with gastric lavage to remove poison content from the stomach. They can use intravenous fluid to prevent dehydration. The activated charcoal absorbs the poison present in the gastrointestinal tract. Even after all these processes, only a few patients get recovered.  Researchers are working to develop a ricin toxin neutralizing antidote to treat the emergency cases of ricin poisoning. The development of vaccines to prevent poisoning are under development. This is extremely useful for military personals.

How Ricin Used a Biological Weapon? 

Ricin has dangerous impacts on the human body. Even a very small dosage of ricin affects many parts of the body and causes death. As the preparation of ricin is easy and readily available from the castor-oil plants. Ricin started using it as a biological weapon from long back. During the first and second world wars, Britain, United States, and some other countries started using it with artillery shells and bombs. This will disperse huge among ricin powder on opposite troops. As the bombs are fired and explored they spread over the large space and created a great impact. 


The research started in this field and some countries continued using this same method during the cold war. But the stockpiles are through and destroyed in the name of the biological weapons convention of 1972. Later Iraq was determined with experimenting with ricin weapons in 1980. Still, ricin is considered as the possible weapon for terror assassination. But they have many practical difficulties of toxins even for the terrorist. Complications include ricin is capable to disperse into the water or food or wind can spread over the indoor space easily. So, terrors are sending small packets of ricin through the postal system is enough to destroy the opponent. But they are termed as the biggest crime. 


In 1978, Georgi Markov a Bulgarian exile living in London, the famous use of ricin weapon was carried out. He stabbed in the leg with the tip of an umbrella and injected a tiny hollow sphere with ricin into his body. He died within three days. During the 1990s a defector from KGB, a former Soviet secret police agency found that the Georgi Markov had been poisoned by a device designed in the soviet union and provided the agent hired by the Bulgarian government. 

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. Is Ricin Poisoning Detectable?

Ans: Ricin is a natural source of protein, which can be derived from the beans of castor oil. Usually, ricin is poisonous while intaking through inhale or ricin injection. But have comparatively less effect when ingested. That’s why the consumption of whole castor seed is unsafe. The outer layer of castor seed contains a deadly poison called ricin. This causes vomiting, diarrhoea, severe fluid, abdominal pain, dehydration, damage of kidney, liver, and even death. At present, there is no specific method to detect ricin contamination in the body immediately. But, can find through testing antibody generated in the body against ricin. 

Q2. Can Ricin Cause a Heart Attack?

Ans: While people exploring the ricin toxin or inhaling the toxin in the aerosol form leads to serious lung damage. This includes adult respiratory distress syndrome. This may result in the development of lesions and cause respiratory problems and heart failure.