Molecule of the Week
February 24, 2014
β-ODAP stands for L-β-N-oxalyl-α,β-diaminopropionic acid. Also called L-β-oxalylaminoanaline, it is an analogue of the neurotransmitter glutamic acid.
β-ODAP is a neurotoxin that causes lathyrism, a disease in which neurons in the lumbar spine deteriorate, paralyzing the legs of humans and other mammals. The name lathyrism comes from the grass pea Lathyrus sativus and other plants of the Lathyrus genus that contain β-ODAP.
β-ODAP is purported to have poisoned Christopher J. McCandless, the subject of the book and film Into the Wild. The controversy revolves around whether β-ODAP is present in the seeds of the Alaskan wild potato Hedysarum alpinum that McCandless may have eaten. Thus far, analytical studies, chiefly by high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry methods, have been inconclusive. Stay tuned!