Thursday, July 25, 2013

Nasty Plants From Around the World: Meet the Croton

There are croton shrubs in various places but there is one in southeast Asia that produces an oil which causes a rash similar to poison ivy and causes tumors in mice; presumably humans too. And you thought poison oak was bad!

I ran across this friendly fellow while doing some research. It seems the oil responsible for all this horror (PMA) is useful as a tool in immunology research, since it makes your "worker-bee" immune cells fire the poison nets they use to kill bad guys. The structure is below, compared to the urushiol family of compounds found in poison oak. Those long ugly greasy side chains are likely helpful in adsorbing the compound to cell membranes. You know sometimes I really hate nature.

Above: PMA

Above: Urushiol

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