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Toxin from Shakespeare

03.04.2017 | 13:15
Toxin from Shakespeare

Scientists found out what poisoned Juliet

In April last year, the literary world celebrated the 452 anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare and the 400th anniversary of his death. Until now, many are attracted by the writer's talent and intriguing stories, which, by coincidence, are often associated with the use of various poisons.

Thus, for example, "hebanon" is poured into Hamlet's father's ear (possibly an extract of hellebore); "Alcohol" fell in the eyes of the heroes in the "Midsummer Night's Dream" (possibly Belladonna), and, of course, "poisoned entrails", "weather-beaten poison" and "hemlock root" were added to the cauldron witch in Macbeth. But the most interesting, according to scientists, is the poison taken by Juliet and allowing her to die for a while. Experts are inclined to the version that the girl in love has taken tetrodotoxin.

This substance is found in the skin, liver and ovaries of fish Fugu. But, strangely enough, it gets into their body through bacteria. It is present in octopuses with a blue ring and some species of newts. In Japan, this fish is a delicacy and it is eaten raw. The best fugue contains just enough poison to tickle your lips and tongue. The tingling sensation, so desirable for gourmets, is caused by the interaction of tetrodotoxin with the nervous system.

 Tetrodotoxin binds and blocks sodium channels. The overall result is flaccid muscle paralysis. Too much concentration of the substance (more than 2 mg) can be fatal, because the muscles that control the breathing become immobile and the victim suffocates. A person during a poisoning is in consciousness, but can not move or signal about his distress. Antidote against tetrodoksin does not exist. The usual procedure for the suspected of such poisoning is the artificial maintenance of breathing and the treatment of symptoms in their manifestation. This is done until the body can not independently metabolize and isolate the toxin. This method is very successful, and, with proper medical care, usually has a good prognosis.

In the time of Shakespeare, such methods of treatment did not exist. However, it is possible that a person who has received the right dose of poison, for some time is in a vegetative state and to recover independently. Therefore, according to the researchers, Juliet is to be killed for a while.

There are, of course, other compounds that inhibit breathing, and slow the pulse. Perhaps a combination of some of these drugs could deceive the Tudor doctor. The only catch is that the fish Fugu and, accordingly, its toxic feature were discovered by James Cook in the 1770s. While "the saddest story in the world" was written 180 years earlier.

Shakespeare, undoubtedly was talented and inventive. And it is quite possible that he managed to come up with a poison that was discovered several centuries later.
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