News FocusEpidemiology

A Startling Villain

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Science  04 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6021, pp. 1130
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6021.1130

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The surprising culprit disease sleuths uncovered when villagers in northeastern Bangladesh began dying 3 years ago sends a chilling warning to regions facing food shortages. After a few days, a common thread began to emerge. Victims had eaten a plant that locals call gaghra shak, the seeds and seedlings of which contain a toxin, carboxyatratyloside. That summer, monsoon flooding had reduced rice yields, and impoverished villagers had resorted to eating the seedlings.