Researchers make ricin vaccine advances

Two possible compounds have been found by researchers in France that could aid in protecting against the bioterror agent ricin.

The two molecules the researchers found have allowed lab-dish cells to survive ricin assaults as well as the so-called Shiga-like toxins that are made by the Escherichia coli bacterium.

The molecules, dubbed Retro-1 and Retro-2, were discovered by the scientists' work in discovering the pathways taken by poisons across the cell rather than by acting on the poisons themselves.

A team led by Daniel Gillet of France's Atomic Energy Commission discovered Retro-1 and Retro-2 during a screen of 16,500 chemical candidates.

"We gave one of the compounds to lab mice and then gave the mice ricin, and found they were protected," Gillet told AFP. "There is no protection if you give the poison first followed by the compound."

Considered one of the world's most notorious poisons, ricin kills its victims within three to five days. An adult can be killed by as little as one milligram of ricin and no antidote currently exists.

Ricin is a byproduct of the castor oil plant's seeds. Castor oil plants are used to manufacture brake fluid, soap, varnish and ink, among other products. The plant is grown widely, making ricin easily accessible to bioterrorists.