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

The structure of ricin. Image by: Christer Johansson

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.

Click to Read Page Two: What Happens If You Eat Ricin?

© Copyright 2013 Janelle Vaesa, MPH, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science
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  1. says

    Every time I read about ricin I think back to my childhood in Jamaica where the castor plant grew wild and as children we played with the pods. I remember crushing the pods with stones just for the fun of it – ignorance is bliss. We nothing of the poison ricin back then.

    My mom used to warm the leaves and applied to our foreheads for a headache. Many men and women made castor oil to be used to strengthen the hair. Up to recently, i used to purchase the oil in the market. Know that I think back, many of the people who made the oil eventually get sick , could it have been an effect of the ricin. I’m almost sure no one even gave thought to the poisonous nature of the seeds.

    • says

      Look no further than me, oh wise one. I am indeed a right-wing nut who is beyond despair over the election. Next time you see me in a crowd of haters, please identify yourself so that I can shake our hand with a ricin-laden glove.

  2. HairyLongProng says

    Bet it was a deranged tea bagger…..They just can’t come to grips that they supported a losing cause as well as a losing party…

    • CelticBrewer says

      Probably more for the media attention than intended results. I’m pretty sure they open the mail outside of the whitehouse. It’s not like the pres is going to read a letter from a nobody anyways. At worst, they might kill an intern or mail room person.

  3. rdbyrne says

    Mel, We have checked and re-checked and there is no ricin missing from our supplies. This should prove that the GOP was not invioved.

    • says

      Why on earth would the republican party terrorist attack the democratic party?

      They work with each other in tandem to put in the president of their choice… When bush jr ran for his second term he was against john kerry. Not only are they both admitted member of skull and bones a secret society in yale (don’t believe me, go look at the picture for yourself not to mention they don’t deny this at all.) Both john kerry and bush jr are related by blood, they are cousins, but more importantly they also have strong family ties in companies and business outside of the politics.

      The political parties would only stage attacks on each other if it was a catalyst to accomplish a goal that otherwise would be unaccomplish-able.

      Open yee eyes simple peasant folk…

      • says

        You forget that even if they were a smooth-running team – and they are not – there would still be infighting for status within the group. I’d say the Democratic and Republican Parties are not particularly loyal to each other under ordinary circumstances.

  4. says

    The FBI needs to investigate the likelihood that this was manufactured by the GOP, like Mitch McConnell’s alleged bugging, which shows how the GOP has sunk to such a new low, if that is possible, to get pity. Well, it won’t work!

    • rtcell says

      Wow. You have no data whatsoever but using this opportunity to blame and demonize your political opponents. You must be a liberal democrat.

        • rtcell says

          Huh ? I would understand “bigotry” – at the end of the day, this is a universal smear. But ignorant? It’s quite easy to deduct that the ones claiming its “GOP work”” are liberal democrats … but I guess you just like the “ignorant bigotry” smear.

      • Steve Ellingson says

        Yeah, right…like the Republicans are oh, so, clean! Both of you two are wrong. It’s someone who’s going to go down and be punished for attempted murder of public officials. (Whether you like them or not, they are humans.)

        • rtcell says

          Of course Republicans are nor clear. Both parties have their portion of lies and provocations. I was merely observing than those who blame GOP with have ZERO evidence must be liberal democrats. Similarly those who would blame democrats without any evidence are most likely on the right wing.

          And we have no clue who might have done it and why. For all we know it could be GOP provocation (for whatever reason) or Dems provocation (to distract attention from gun control and economics debate) or some crazy person off his medication again. Or even foreign evil though I see no reason why would they want to.

          BTW, is Ricin really lethal? How much is needed to kill of maim, and does it work on skin contact? In the other words, how much damage ‘the trace’ on the letters could have done ? The press is awfully silent on this matter

    • Bleach Drowning says

      Although the GOP does tend to try and self destruct, I think the two other ricin letters to Republican senators would make your ridiculous assumption null and void.

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