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Brazilian scientists produce ricin-free castor bean

Genetic research

Removal of the toxin allows the plant to be used in feed and creates new export opportunities
published: Aug 10, 2018 10:23 AM last modified: Aug 10, 2018 10:23 AM

Researchers at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) have developed a new variety of castor bean that is free of ricin, one of the most toxic substances known to men and cited in the International Convention for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The ricin-free castor beans were created by means of a method called gene silencing, a technique that allows scientists to "turn off" specific genes.

Because of its toxicity, ricin makes the use of castor bean cake (byproduct of castor oil processing) in animal feed unfeasible. The substance also presents risks of intoxication during the process of obtaining castor oil itself, an input valued in industry for its high quality and used in cosmetics, dyes, lubricants and several other products.

The researchers estimate that the new variety should take at least four years to be available in the market. The benefits are manifold: ricin-free castor cake can be used in the formulation of animal feeds, thus raising its market value - it is currently used only as a low-value organic fertiliser. The technology also has the potential to be employed in other castor bean producing countries, chiefly among which the United States, India and China.