A*Star scientists discover ricin neutralizer

Scientists from Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research, known as A*Star, have discovered a possible means of neutralizing the toxin ricin, which is considered to be a potential bioterrorist agent.

A team of researchers from A*Star’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology used a genome-wide study to identify a host gene, ERGIC2, that could be an attractive therapeutic target. ERGIC2 is not only an essential ingredient in ricin, it is also required by the Pseudomonas exotoxin, responsible for tens of thousands of hospital-acquired infections in immune-compromised patients, according to News.AsiaOne.com.

"This means that we could potentially develop a generic antidote that is effective against the two different types of toxins by blocking ERGIC2 function," Dr. Frederic Bard, the principal investigator of the study, said, News.AsiaOne.com reports.

Ricin is an extremely dangerous toxin that is 1,000 times more potent than cyanide. An amount equal to a half a grain of rice is considered enough to kill a healthy adult. There is currently no known antidote against ricin, which is relatively simple to produce. In addition, the poison is completely odorless and tasteless. For these reasons, experts believe it has immense bioterrorism potential.

Dr. Bard said that the results of the study will be useful in creating more effective antidotes against diphtheria and the Shiga-like toxins secreted by certain strains of E. coli.

"Through this genome-wide screen, our understanding of how toxins interact with human cells at the molecular level expanded tremendously,” Bard said, News.AsiaOne.com reports. “Our hope is that with these new therapeutic targets identified from the human genome, we will be one step closer to finding toxin antidotes that will make hospital-acquired infections and enterotoxic E. Coli outbreaks a thing of the past."