Monday, August 14, 2006

Applied Chemistry: How To Make A Zombie*

Tetrodotoxin is a very potent neurotoxin found in pufferfish (ปลาปักเป้า) and other animals (เช่น คางคกบางประเภท และ ปลาหมึก blue ring.) It blocks sodium channel in cells, disrupting the cell's normal signaling mechanism. The person poisoned by tetrodotoxin will become numbed, paralyzed and die of respiratory failure if the dose is high enough** ("...Only 0.00000065 g of tetrodotoxin is required to kill an adult, making it about 1000 times more toxic than cyanide." ... "It is a terrible death," reports on fugu devotee. "Even though you can think very clearly, your arms and legs become numb and you cannot sit up. You cannot speak, cannot move, and soon cannot breathe.")

In the 1980's, Wade Davis went to Haiti to explore the Voodoo's method of making zombies. He brought back the "Zombie Powder" which was analyzed and found to contain tetrodotoxin. It seems that the powder was used by unscrupulous Voodoo practitioners to create zombies who would be used as slaves in plantation. Apparently, people would be poisoned by the powder, became sick, "died", buried, and later dug up by the criminals to be sold as a slave. Once sold, the "zombie slave" is kept docile and confused by another drug that contains tropane alkaloids. Dr. Davis' experience is described in his book "The Serpent and the Rainbow" which was later made into a movie.

I wonder whether Juliet was given tetradotoxin (probably at approximately 0.00000015 g, since she was a small teenage girl), by Friar Lawrence when Romeo thought she was dead. Had the Friar reduced the dose by 5-10%, she would have waken up in time to prevent Romeo's suicide. To think of it, Friar Lawrence probably succeeded many times in similar situations but we only know of Romeo & Juliet because he failed so spectacularly in this case. (Of course, it was not the Friar's fault; I would place the blame squarely on Romeo for being way too hot-headed and didn't wait another day--or another half hour.)

*I know I didn't tell you exactly how to make a zombie. However, any self-respecting mad scientist can use the provided clues to do further research him/herself.

**Six fishermen in Thailand died from consuming pufferfish a few years ago.

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