RICIN: A DANGEROUS BIOWEAPON
By Manuel Cereijo
Ricin is a protein toxin extracted from the castor bean plant. Ricin kills by destroying an important component of the protein synthesizing machinery of cells, the ribosome. It works as a slow poison, eventually causing a total body collapse as necessary proteins are not replaced. Ricin can be used as a bioweapon of mass destruction, or it can be used to specifically target an enemy. One seed can kill a child. One milligram of ricin can kill an adult. Ricin has been bioweaponized by several countries, the former Soviet Union, Iraq, Iran, and Cuba, among others.
Ricin is made up of two hemagglutinis and two toxins. The toxins, RCL III and RCL IV, are dimmers of about 66,000 daltons molecular weight. The toxins are made up of two polypeptide chains, an A chain and a B chain, which are joined by a disulfide bond. Ricin can be produced relatively easy and inexpensively in large quantities in a fairly low technology setting.
Ricin can be prepared in liquid or crystalline form, or it can be lyophilized to make it a dry powder. It could be disseminated by an enemy as an aerosol, or it could be used as a sabotage, assassination, or terrorist weapon.
The symptoms are:
Ricin's significance as a bioweapon toxin relates in part to its wide availability. Worldwide, one million tons of castor beans are processed annually in the production of castor oil. The waste mash from this process is five percent ricin by weight. Ricin is said to have been used in the assassination of Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov in London, 1978. Markov was attacked with a specially engineered weapon disguised as an umbrella which implanted a ricin-component pellet into his body.
Cuba, at the CIGB, has the potential to engineer ricin as a bioweapon. The Center, among other processes, had worked extensively in recombinant protein production technologies in yeast and Escherichi coli, as well as the large scale purification protocols for both soluble and insoluble proteins synthesized in or excreted by them.
Iraq has worked in the weaponization of ricin in the secret labs at the northwest of Baghdad.