What is Ricin? Poison Found in Letter to President Obama and Senator Roger Wicker

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Home / What is Ricin? Poison Found in Letter to President Obama and Senator Roger Wicker

The structure of ricin. Image by: Christer Johansson

President Obama and Mississippi’s senator Roger Wicker – both are recipients of a letter that tested positive for ricin. Senator Wicker’s letter was postmarked in Memphis and authorities have identified a suspect, but no one in custody as yet. The poisonous letter has now been sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who will test the letter again since field testing can sometimes be unreliable.

What is Ricin?

Ricin comes from the castor bean plant, and is the most poisonous, naturally occurring substance, according to Cornell University Department of Animal Sciences. The part of the plant that is poisonous to people, animals, and insects, is the bean; however, it resembles a seed more than a bean. We process the castor beans to make castor oil, and the ‘mash’ from the processing of the castor beans is ricin. Ricin can be a powder, in the form of a mist, or a pellet. You can also dissolve Ricin in water or a weak acid.

Ricin Poisoning: Symptoms

Ricin works by getting inside cells and preventing the cells from making essential proteins. Without these proteins, the cells die – and this can occur throughout the body, leading  to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms of ricin poisoning depend on where the ricin entered the body. If ricin entered via inhalation, symptoms would include difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea, and tightness in the chest. Fluid in the lungs could build up and the skin may turn blue. Low blood pressure and respiratory distress can follow and lead to death.

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