Researchers identify protein that controls how ricin kills

Using stem cell biology and modern screening methods, a team of Austrian researchers has identified a protein that controls how the deadly plant poison and bioweapon ricin is able to kill.
The team, which is from the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, identified the protein molecule, called Gpr107, which is essential for ricin's deadly effect. Cells that do no contain Gpr107 are immune to the poison.
"Our research suggests that a specific antidote could now be developed by making a small molecule to block the Gpr107 protein," Ulrich Elling, one of researchers on the study, said.
Because of new technology, the entire mammal genome can now be quickly screened for mutations and researchers can find out in a few weeks what had previously taken scientists decades. The previous screening methods focused on finding one particular mutation by studying how removing a single gene effected a cell, which is not always efficient.

"We've now succeeded in combining the genetics of yeast, which has a single chromosome set that allows instant gene mutation, with stem cell biology," Josef Penninger, the scientific director at the IMBA, said. "For decades researchers have been looking for a system in mammals which would allow scientists to reconstruct millions of gene mutations simultaneously. We have solved the puzzle and even broke a paradigm in biology - we managed to make stable mouse stem cells with a single set of chromosomes and developed novel tools to use such stem cells to rapidly check virtually all genes at the same time for a specific function. The possible uses of this discovery are endless. They range from fundamental issues, like which genes are necessary for the proper function of a heart muscle cell, to concrete applications as we have done in the case of ricin toxicity."
Ricin is one of the deadliest plant-based poisons in the world and has been tested as a chemical warfare agent by everyone from the United States Army in World War I to al-Qaeda.