Abrus Precatorius - Jequirity - Toxic Jewelry
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Abrus Precatorius - a Toxic Seed Known by many namesAbrus precatorius, known commonly as jequirity, Crab's eye, rosary pea, precatory pea or bean, John Crow Bead, Indian licorice, Akar Saga, gidee gidee or Jumbie bead.
Abrus precatorius plant is best known for its seeds, which are used as beads and in percussion instruments, and which are toxic due to the presence of Abrin. The plant is native to India and grows in tropical and subtropical areas of the world where it has been introduced. It has a tendency to become weedy and invasive where it has been introduced.
The toxin abrin is a dimer consisting of two protein subunits, termed A and B. The B chain facilitates abrin's entry into a cell by bonding to certain transport proteins on cell membranes, which then transport the toxin into the cell. Once inside the cell, the A chain prevents protein synthesis by inactivating the 26S subunit of the ribosome. One molecule of abrin will inactivate up to 1,500 ribosomes per second.
Symptoms are identical to those of ricin, except abrin is more toxic by almost two orders of magnitude; the fatal dose of abrin is approximately 1/75th that of the fatal dose of ricin (though the abrin in ingested seeds may be absorbed much more slowly than the ricin in Ricinus communis even if the seeds are chewed and the coat penetrated, allowing time for successful rescue efforts in at least some cases.) Abrin has an LD50 of only 0.56 μg/kg in mice, and Kingsbury lists a toxic dose in humans at 0.00015% body weight, or approximately 0.1 mg for a 150 lb human. Ingesting intact seeds may result in no clinical findings, as they can pass undigested through the gastrointestinal tract due to their hard shell.
Uses for Abrus Precatorius
The bright red seeds of A. precatorius are strung as jewellery.
The seeds of Abrus precatorius are much valued in native jewelry for their bright coloration. Most beans are black and red, suggesting a ladybug, though other colors are available. Jewelry-making with jequirity seeds is somewhat hazardous.
In Trinidad in the West Indies the brightly colored seeds are strung into bracelets and worn around the wrist or ankle to ward off jumbies or evil spirits and "mal-yeux" - the evil eye. The Tamils use Abrus seeds of different colors. The red variety with black eye is the most common, but there are black, white and green varieties as well.
The seeds of Abrus precatorius are very consistent in weight. Formerly Indians used these seeds to weigh gold using a measure called a Ratti, where 8 Ratti = 1 Masha; 12 Masha = 1 Tola (11.6 Grams).
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