New research indicates that a powerful weapon in the fight against bioterrorism could be a simple cup of tea.
The favorite English beverage has shown in studies the ability to kill certain deadly microorganisms and deactivate toxins. According to Dr. Simon Richardson, senior lecturer in Biopharmaceutical Sciences at the British University of Greenwich’s School of Science, and his team of researchers, a principal component of black tea can neutralize ricin, a highly toxic substance that has been used in a number of attempted bioterror attacks.
Ricin is a waste byproduct of the extraction of oil from castor beans.
“One cup of char [British slang for tea] won’t cure you if you have been poisoned, but compounds extracted from tea could, with further research, provide an antidote to poisoning following a terrorist attack,” said Richardson. “I’ve been working on neutralizing ricin poisoning for about six years as a by-product of my work in drug delivery…The next stage, as well as securing more funding, is seeing if other components of tea have a greater effect.”
There is currently no treatment for ricin poisoning. A number of failed terror attempts in the United States and abroad have involved the bioterrorism chemical in recent years.
In 1978, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian journalist and activist living in London, was famously killed by a man with an umbrella rigged to inject a poison ricin pellet under Markov’s skin.
If refined into a terrorist or warfare agent, ricin could be used to expose people through the air, food or water.