The toxic culprit in recent cases of mushroom poisoning which has lead to several deaths has been identified as a single small molecule. The specific toxic agent in these poisoning cases was previously unknown and the findings, published online this week in Nature Chemical Biology, will enable biological experiments to determine how the molecule causes fatalities.
To uncover the fatal molecule, Kimiko Hashimoto and colleagues first determined which species of mushroom was causing the negative reactions. They then isolated the active molecule and determined that it was cycloprop-2-ene carboxylic acid, a tiny compound with only 4 carbon atoms. This compound has been used in synthetic chemistry research, but has never been found in a biological system. However, biological testing in mice confirmed that the compound causes severe biological symptoms suggestive of rhabdomyolysis - the rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue.