Ricin is one of the most poisonous substances on Earth, it's scarily easy to make, and somebody is mailing it to the President and at least one U.S. senator. What it is, how it works, and more, inside.
About a month ago, my apartment had some unwelcome visitors in the form of cream-colored little worms writhing about on my kitchen and bathroom floor. Maggots. It was deeply unsettling, but, as always, science was on my side, with its pressurized cans of grocery store poison, specifically calibrated for my particular pest problem. Sure, we were sweeping up scores of dead fly bodies for weeks, but at least they were dead.
Mice are great (see: high-endurance mice, mice with lab-grown artificial organs, Israeli bomb-sniffing security mice) but sometimes you just don't want them in your apartment/house/bakery/kitchen/New York subway station, which is why you might buy some warfarin, a common rodent poison. Some mice, however, have developed an immunity to that poison through highly unusual means: horizontal gene transfer, a kind of evolution-through-hybridization that's only been seen before in microbes.
For the first time, a human-designed chemical enzyme -- a chemzyme -- has been used to break down a toxin found inside fruits and vegetables.
Chemzymes are designed to emulate the body's naturally occuring enzymes, but are much simpler and tougher. A chemzyme designed by a Danish scientist successfully neutralized glycoside esculin, a toxic compound found in horse chestnuts. The toxin can cause nasty problems like muscle twitching, lack of coordination, vomiting, diarrhea, depression and paralysis.