What is in this article?:
- Castor beans are back in California as a possible source crop for making biofuels.
- Castor's main toxic protein, ricin, is so potent that a single milligram is sufficient to kill an adult.
- Castor oil is essential to the global specialty chemical industry because it is the only commercial source of hydroxylated fatty acids.
Australian Nic George, left, is a UC associate specialist,who is working on oilseed research with UC Davis Cooperative Extension biofuels guru Steve Kaffka, right. They are standing beside a castor trial.
Castor in California
“We may be two or three years away from producing the best variety for commercial application in Texas, one that is safe, highly productive and easily managed. The potential is there, and castor could one day soon find a home on Texas soil,” says Trostle.
And, maybe California, too.
"We estimate that would translate to about 200,000 acres of production in Texas or elsewhere to provide the oil alone," Trostle said.
Some people have suggested that all this concern over ricin levels in castor is much ado about nothing; that it's been grown in the past in the U.S. and nobody died from it. Trostle notes that he has not found in the literature any instance of someone getting sick or dying from handling castor. Still, he believes it is best to err on the side of caution in this instance. That would include strict guidelines for planting, growing, harvesting, transporting, selling and storing castor.
Purified ricin and RCA are of considerable concern as weapons for several reasons. First, castor bean seeds are readily obtainable. Second, several routes of exposure are possible (for ricin: inhalation, injection, or ingestion). Once the proteins are purified, the powdered toxin can be used to contaminate food or beverages. Ricin is heat-stable, so it can be applied to shrapnel within an explosive device. Ricin has reportedly been found in terrorists weapons in Afghanistan. Possibly the greatest concern about ricin used as a weapon is that symptoms of poisoning can easily be misdiagnosed.
As a terrorism agent, ricin can be used as a powder, a mist, a pellet, or can be dissolved in water or weak acid. It is a stable substance and does not break down easily in typical indoor or outdoor temperatures.
Probably the most famous ricin poisoning was in 1978. Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian writer and journalist who was living in London, died after he was attacked by a man with an umbrella. The umbrella had been rigged to inject a poison ricin pellet under Markov’s skin.
More recently, in 2008 an unemployed graphic designer who told investigators that he found making ricin an "exotic idea" pleaded guilty to possessing the deadly toxin in a hotel room in Las Vegas.
He poisoned himself and was hospitalized with breathing problems and placed on life support.
Castor bean grows wild.
It is widespread in the southern United States, where it has been introduced and naturalized. Castor bean has naturalized below 1,000 feet (300 m) elevation in the southern San Joaquin Valley, along the central and south coast, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in Trinity County. It grows as a shrub in mild climates such as coastal Southern California, but can grow as an annual in colder climates.
Castor bean is frequently found in riparian areas, especially along the south and central coast, where it invades and displaces native vegetation. This plant is also common in abandoned fields, drainages, ditches, and along roadsides and railroad tracks.
(Considerable information is this article was gleaned from articles in Southwest Farm Press written by Logan Hawkes andby Clay Coppedge in Country World)