Mystery toxins in tainted New Zealand honey nabbed | Science News

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Mystery toxins in tainted New Zealand honey nabbed

Chemical analysis traces toxic trouble from bees back to a plant’s stealthy biological defense

7:45am, June 1, 2015
trail of covert forms of neurotoxin

TOXIC TRAIL  Researchers have discovered a trail of covert forms of tutin, a potent neurotoxin, that goes from tutu shrubs (far left) to passionvine hoppers (center left) to European honeybees (center right) to honey (far right). 

In a sticky sting operation, researchers may have nabbed the last toxic members of a honey-tainting ring in New Zealand.

Cloaked in sugars, two forms of tutin — a potent neurotoxin that can cause delirium and seizures — have been found lurking in poisoned honey, researchers report online May 21 in the Journal of Natural Products. The discovery of the incognito toxins helps to explain puzzling inconsistencies in the timing and severity of symptoms in people who have eaten the spiked syrup.

The new finding will help ensure New Zealand’s honey is safe, says clinical neurologist Andrew Chancellor with the Bay of Plenty District Health Board in Tauranga, New Zealand.  “Sporadic outbreaks of honey poisoning in New Zealand have occurred in low numbers for as long as records have been kept,” he says. For instance, a 2008 outbreak sickened more than 20,

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