Black Tea Could Defend Against Ricin, Researchers Say

By Carlton Purvis

Add opossums and black tea to the list of surprising biological weapon countermeasures.

Scientists from Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences found that one of the main components of black tea is effective at deactivating the poisonous properties of ricin.

Ricin is a highly toxic byproduct of processing castor beans that can be made into a powder, pellets, or aerosolized. It is lethal in the smallest of doses (In 1978, an amount of ricin “the size of a pin head” was used to kill a Bulgarian journalist).

Professor Les Baillie of the pharmacy school says researchers already knew that tea was effective at inhibiting anthrax just as long as it was black tea with no milk. The new findings suggest that “if the security services want to counter the threat of ricin, they may find the answer in their morning cup of tea.”

The key ingredient is Epigallocatechin gallate, a polyphenol and the principal property of tea. In lab tests, Epigallocatechin gallate deactivated ricin. Baillie said it was too early to know how it could be definitely applied as a countermeasure.

Cardiff researchers are finding that tea works in a number of unexpected ways.

William McCully, a PhD student, recently won a competition for research into using tea to combat the bacteria Clostridium difficile--which is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Initial research indicated that tea could kill the bacteria. McCully is working with the National Botanic Garden of Wales to grow a “super tea” rich in polyphenols that will be clinically effective against the bacteria.

Tea was also effective at deactivating the botulinum toxin, the most poisonous substance known to science.

In other news, a toxin study, more than a decade old, is making news now after being rediscovered by the Internet. Yahoo News reports, “Opossums may someday provide an antidote to nearly all forms of poison, including everything from snakebites to ricin.”

photo by blumenbiene/flickr


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