2022 Undergraduate Research Showcase


Characterization and Analysis of Cerberin, 2-O-Acetyl Neriifolin in Pong Pong Seeds from the “Suicide Tree”

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Student Presentation

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Dr. Owen McDougal


Cerbera Odollam, as known as the pong pong tree, is a native plant of India, Southeast Asia, and East Africa. The Cerbera Odollam produces brown oval seeds that yield a dangerous bioactive cardiac glycoside, cerberin, which has been used in various ways, including witch trials in Madagascar, or used to commit suicide or murder. Those who ingest these seeds will suffer from various symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, followed by heart-related symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, bradycardia, chest pain/tightness, and hypotension potentially resulting in death. The McDougal lab was sent blood samples from a patient that had intentionally consumed pong-pong and survived the self-induced poisoning. The project aims were to characterize cerberin, 2-o-acetyl neriifolin, in the seed and then identify the poison in the patient blood. The characterization of, 2-o-acetyl neriifolin was determined using a developed method via liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry method to generate a calibration curve for commercially available cerberin. After cerberin was correctly identified within the standard, then it was important to identify cerberin in the extract of pong-pong seeds purchased from Amazon.com. The method used to identify cerberin from the seed extract will then be customized for analysis of cerberin in patient blood. We seek to publish the results of our study together with the doctors at Emory University.

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