in Agricultural Research magazine
Advance May Revive U.S. Castor Oil Production
By Marcia Wood
January 25, 2001
The $41 million worth of castor oil
that the United States currently imports might someday be produced from
domestically grown castor plants, thanks to work by scientists with the
Agricultural Research Service.
Castor oil, which has a worldwide market of more than $400 million annually,
is used for heavy-duty lubricants, paints, shampoos, and other products. But
castor is no longer grown extensively in the United States because the
plants colorful beans contain a deadly toxin called ricin. And the meal
ground from the beans when they are processed can cause severe allergic
reactions, including asthma or anaphylactic shock and death.
ARS scientists Thomas McKeon and Grace Chen have produced about a dozen
genetically engineered castor plants--a scientific first. They did that in
their laboratory and greenhouse at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany,
Calif. Now they intend to construct and insert genes that could undermine
production of ricin and allergens.
McKeon and Chen are seeking a patent for their work. The January 2001 issue
of ARS Agricultural
Research magazine tells more.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency in the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Scientific contact: Thomas A. McKeon, ARS Western Regional Research
Center, Albany, Calif.; phone (510) 559-5754,