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Keywords:

  • forensic science;
  • ricin;
  • castor;
  • Ricinus communis ;
  • stable isotope;
  • sample matching;
  • forensic signature

Abstract

Seeds of the castor plant Ricinus communis are of forensic interest because they are the source of the poison ricin. We tested whether stable isotope ratios of castor seeds and ricin preparations can be used as a forensic signature. We collected over 300 castor seed samples worldwide and measured the C, N, O, and H isotope ratios of the whole seeds and oil. We prepared ricin by three different procedures, acetone extraction, salt precipitation, and affinity chromatography, and compared their isotope ratios to those of the source seeds. The N isotope ratios of the ricin samples and source seeds were virtually identical. Therefore, N isotope ratios can be used to correlate ricin prepared by any of these methods to source seeds. Further, stable isotope ratios distinguished >99% of crude and purified ricin protein samples in pairwise comparison tests. Stable isotope ratios therefore constitute a valuable forensic signature for ricin preparations.