The Poison Chronicles: Cyanide -Cassava’s Built in Pesticide

Another post on the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium blog, on cyanide and cassava.

Herbology Manchester

Guest Post by Laura Cooper

wp_20170109_11_56_21_proManihot esculenta leaf sewn onto this Herbarium sheet.

I remember hearing as a small child the rumour that swallowing a single apple seed would kill you. Whilst I later learnt that this was false, it is true that the cyanide in apple seeds means that theoretically, chewing a large number could cause poisoning.

Cyanide is a simple chemical produced by many organisms, often as an unwanted by-product. But cyanide is found in relatively high levels in many plant species, including the seeds of many common food plants, such as peaches, almonds, and legumes.

cassava Manihot esculenta tubers, sold as cassava or yuca. Source.

The cyanogenic plant I will focus on here is cassava, Manihot esculenta, also known as yucca. It’s tubers are a major carbohydrate source throughout the tropics due to its drought tolerance and ability to thrive in poor soil. It is probably most…

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Author: Laura Cooper

I'm a gap-year student living in the UK, and I have a principle interest in the life sciences and here will be exploring these sciences with a historical, sociological and philosophical perspective. I want to know more about the social and philosophical underpinnings of scientific concepts and to explore their etiology, adoption and development in a holistic manner. Having a good knowledge of these fundamental principles behind scientific ideas is important for scientists to see scientific ideas as malleable things that can be questioned if inadequate, as well as for the non-scientist to appreciate science as a humanistic enterprise which is shaped by our basic human interests.

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