I bumped into a former classmate from middle school yesterday. We talked about what we did after graduating… then he started asking some interesting questions.
Dude: You’re telling me you’re studying biochem? Whoa, that’s interesting.
Me: How come?
Dude: Well, I’ve been writing quite a bit lately. Mostly detective stories, you know.
Me: I love detective stories.
Dude: Yeah well, I was wondering if you could help me. Know any good ways of killing someone? Like a poison, maybe.
Me: I don’t exactly study this stuff, but we were talking about arsenic and cyanide poisoning in class the other day.
Dude: Oh, those are classic. How do they work?
Me: Well, arsenic inhibits some important enzymes in the aerobic respiration pathway. It also affects the oxidative parts of some other pathways, which backs them up and keeps them from working. Cyanide works sort of like arsenic in that it affects energy metabolism, but it’s more acute; it binds to cytochrome oxidase in mitochondria and blocks aerobic respiration. Basically, it keeps cells from using oxygen and suffocates them.
[I explain in a lot more detail.]
Dude: Ah, now that’s all very interesting, but how would you actually use these?
Me: Erm… I’ve heard of people getting sick from drinking arsenic-contaminated water. But cyanide can be used as hydrogen cyanide gas or cyanide salts.
Dude: Awesome! I might have to call you up later for details… but I’ve a quick question for you. Do you know where one could obtain arsenic or cyanide in a place like New York City?
Me: … erm… I gotta go to class…
[I retreat into the nearest convenient lecture building.]
Dude: Hey! What’s your phone number?