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Not So Deadly Poison Not So Deadly Poison

By Raychelle Burks

Cyanide is the go-to poison for a spy (both real and Hollywood) who finds themselves strong-armed by the wrong side and must escape to the other side pronto. But what if the wrong side just wanted you over for tea? Isn’t there a second, antidote capsule?

Only in the movies. Cyanide requires a tricky antidote regime and happy endings aren’t guaranteed.  But aiming to re-write cyanide’s ending, researchers at University of Minnesota have designed clever compounds to act as both cyanide antidote and poison prophylactic.

Scientists have designed harmless looking compounds that once in the body are converted into cyanide’s deadly enemy - 3-mercaptopyruvate (3-MP). Faster than James Bond orders a martini, 3-MP and its co-conspirator, blood cell enzyme 3-mercaptopyruvate sulfurtransferase (3-MPST), render cyanide as safe as a kitten via a sulfur transfer.

Why all the subterfuge? Why not just swallow some 3-MP? “3-MP is chemically unstable, and attempts at intravenous administration to counteract the toxicity of cyanide were unsuccessful due to this instability,” state researchers in their recent publication in Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 3-MP’s instability forced researchers to orchestrate their chemical bait-and-switch designing undercover compounds.

Early mice studies show these undercover compounds not only diffuse cyanide but protect against future exposure. When ingested up to an hour before cyanide, these compounds behaved as poison prophylactics, guarding the mice from cyanide’s ill effects. With the compounds' dual antidote and prophylactic abilities, researchers see future real world applications with fire fighters and military personnel as well as cyanide exposure victims.

Read more from Raychelle here or learn some more spy skills at the Null:
- Sneaky sneaky - How to get the truth out of people
- Snoopy snoopy - Keeping your eye on people by satellite
- Sexy sexy - Looking good for the ladies
- Naughty naughty - Sleeping around

Image: Oliver Gruener

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