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Biosecur Bioterror. 2013 Dec;11(4):237-50. doi: 10.1089/bsp.2013.0053. Epub 2013 Dec 9.

Comprehensive laboratory evaluation of a highly specific lateral flow assay for the presumptive identification of ricin in suspicious white powders and environmental samples.


Ricin, a heterodimeric toxin that is present in the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant, is the biothreat agent most frequently encountered by law enforcement agencies in the United States. Even in untrained hands, the easily obtainable seeds can yield a highly toxic product that has been used in various types of threats, including "white-powder" letters. Although the vast majority of these threats are hoaxes, an impediment to accurate hazard assessments by first responders is the unreliability of rapid detection assays for ricin, such as lateral flow assays (LFAs). One of the complicating factors associated with LFAs is the incorporation of antibodies of poor specificity that cross-react with near-neighbors or with plant lectins that are capable of nonspecifically cross-linking the capture and detector antibodies. Because of the compelling and critical need to promote the interests of public safety and public health, the Department of Homeland Security conducted a comprehensive laboratory evaluation study of a commercial LFA for the rapid detection of ricin. This study was conducted using comprehensive inclusivity and exclusivity panels of ricin and near-neighbor plant materials, along with panels of lectins and "white-powders," to determine the specificity, sensitivity, limits of detection, dynamic range, and repeatability of the assay for the specific intended use of evaluating suspicious white powders and environmental samples in the field.

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