Castor bean's genome sequence published

A research team from the J. Craig Venter Institute and the Institute of Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland's School of Medicine has published the sequence and analysis of the castor bean, which is the source of the potential bioweapon ricin.

The castor bean's genome was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The castor bean is a tropical perennial shrub found in Africa and other tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

The sequencing of the castor bean genome shows that it has an estimated 31,237 genes. The research team focused on the genes in the castor bean that can be used to create biofuel and ricin.

Understanding the ricin-producing gene in the castor bean family, the researchers say, is integral to preventing and dealing with potential bioterrorism events. Twenty-eight genes in the castor bean's ricin producing family were identified by the research.

Enhanced diagnostic and forensic methods for detection of ricin are made possible by genomics, which also aids in precise identifications of strains and geographical regions.

"The availability of the castor bean genome will encourage more research into the positive aspects of this oilseed crop as a potential biofuel," Dr. Agnes P. Chan, one of the co-lead authors of the research, said. "Further study will also elucidate many aspects about ricin and enable researchers to potentially eliminate the bioterrorism threat of this natural toxin."