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Rice ’n Beans or Ricin Beans?

A Deadly Swap


Ann T.S. Taylor
Department of Chemistry
Wabash College


Taylor must write a report about a natural toxin while she is home from college on break. After a family dinner conversation about the latest attempt to poison a politician via a letter, Taylor decides to explore how ricin acts as a poison. Students work in small groups to help Taylor by working through figures from primary literature papers and exploring the use of an in vitro translation system, sucrose gradient fractionation and the effect of inhibiting various steps of translation.  A shorter, second day activity involves students looking further at the effect of ricin upon ribosome function and at the ricin protein itself.  Students individually complete a cumulative assignment of writing a letter back to Mom and Dad about how ricin has its effects. This case was designed for use in a second semester biochemistry course or a molecular biology course that incorporates the mechanism of transcription. Prerequisite knowledge includes a general understanding of the steps of translation and the ability to interpret data from agarose gels.

  • Describe the steps of translation in molecular detail.
  • Interpret experimental evidence that can be used to monitor translation, including radionucleotide tracers, polyribosome isolation, and modification.
  • Apply and extend the concepts of translation to predict and explain inhibitor effects.
  • Form hypotheses and logical experimental techniques to explore translation.
Keywords: ricin; translation; experimental design; primary literature; in vitro translation; ribosome; toxin; poison
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Jig-Saw, Journal Article
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biochemistry   Biology (General)   Genetics / Heredity   Molecular Biology  
Date Posted: 7/1/2016
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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Supplemental Materials

The PowerPoint presentation below contains the figures that appear in the case study.


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