Unformatted text preview: Katelyn Colley
Name(s):_______________________________________________Date:_____ Chicago Cyanide Murders: A Case Study on Cellular Respiration
Part 1: Background
In September of 1982 ,Mary Kellerman gave her 12
year old daughter a painkiller when she awoke during
the night complaining of a sore throat. At 7 am the
next morning, her daughter was found collapsed on
the bathroom floor, and later pronounced dead.
Adam Janus, a postal worker in another Chicago
suburb also died unexpectedly, though originally it
was thought he had suffered from a heart attack.
While his family gathered to mourn their loss, his
brother and sister became ill and later died.
In the days that followed, three more unexplained
deaths occurred in nearby Chicago suburbs.
Investigators found that all of the victims had taken
an extra strength Tylenol hours before their death.
They suspected that someone had tampered with the
Symptoms exhibited by each of the victims included:
● weakness, dizziness, sleepiness
flushed, bright red, skin tone
shortness of breath and rapid breathing
confusion and disorientation Questions:
1. What additional information would you need to determine if these deaths were connected?
You would also need to know what type of medication was
taken and if any of them had any medical conditions to be
aware of. You would want to check their DNA for any passed
down genetics. 2. If poison is suspected in the deaths, how would you proceed with the investigation?
You would want to test on the body’s to find out
what kind of poison and how if affected them. You
would want to be careful to not get poisoned also. Part 2: Autopsy report
The medical examiner concluded that each of the victims had died of hypoxia. Hypoxia means that the person
suffered from a lack of oxygen, or they were suffocated. The reason for the hypoxia is not always clear at the
first examination. Even though the victims died of hypoxia, their level of oxygen in their blood was
approximately 110 mm Hg. The normal range is 75-100 mm Hg.
The medical examiner also showed the tissue samples from the heart, lungs, and liver showed massive cell
death. On further investigation, it was shown that the tissues had damage to the mitochondria of the cells.
3. Recall your knowledge of the function of organelles, if the mitochondrial were damaged, what process of the
cells would this interfere with?
It would interfere with the amount of ATP energy that the
cells are getting. The mitochondria provide the majority of
the energy needed for the cells. 4. While poison is the main suspect in the case, what are other ways a person could die of hypoxia?
Another way someone could die of hypoxia would be due
to the lack of oxygen in a person’s body. 5. Analyze the oxygen levels of the victims. Were the levels higher or lower than normal?
The oxygen level of the victims were higher than
normal being at 110 mm Hg. How can you reconcile this observation with the cause of death being hypoxia?
With the cause of death being hypoxia, the oxygen levels should’ve been
lower than normal. For these victims they were higher than normal, rather
than being normal. Toxicology reports show that the victims had been poisoned with cyanide. The
poison was traced back to extra strength Tylenol where the murderer had opened the
capsules and replaced acetaminophen (a pain killer) with cyanide. Cyanide acts very
quickly, often killing within minutes of ingestion and authorities were slow to identify
the cause of the deaths. Once the cause as identified, stores removed Tylenol and
other drugs from shelves.
No one was ever charged with the crime and it is still an ongoing investigation. Since
the Chicago Tylenol murders, drug companies have changed how medicines are packaged.
Cyanide is an effective poison because it directly interferes with cellular respiration that occurs in the
mitochondria causing death within minutes of being ingested.
6. Why are mitochondria called the “powerhouse of the cell?”
important for staying alive? What is this “power” used for and why is it The mitochondria is called the powerhouse of the cell because it provides most of the
energy needed to keep the cell alive and working. If the cells die then the body will
die as well. Therefore, the “power” in the cell is very important for staying alive. Part 3: Why Do We Need Oxygen? It seems like a simple question, everyone knows you need to
breathe to live. Have you ever thought about why oxygen is so important? The victims of the cyanide poisoning all had
high levels of oxygen in their blood, but the poison was interfering with how the cells use that oxygen. To understand, we
need to take a very close look at the structure of the mitochondrion. Inside the mitochondria, there are several layers of membranes. In fact, these membranes resemble the membrane that
surrounds the cell. It has a bilayer of phospholipids and embedded proteins. On the diagram above, the proteins are
labeled I, II, III, IV, and Cytochrome C.
The proteins in the membrane pass electrons from one to the other, this is known as the electron transport chain. The
passing of these electrons allows ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to be generated. At the end of the electron transport
chain, Cytochrome C passes the electron to its final acceptor, oxygen. Oxygen then binds with proteins to create water.
This process is continuous in cells, with ATP constantly being generated and oxygen being used as the final electron
Cyanide inhibits cytochrome C, preventing the last protein from doing its job. The electron stops at the end of the chain
and cannot be passed to oxygen. The whole chain grinds to a halt and no ATP can be made.
→ On the model of mitochondria, highlight the area (arrows) that is the ELECTRON TRANSPORT CHAIN in yellow
→ Place an X over the protein that is inhibited by cyanide.
→ Color the phospholipid bilayer blue.
→ Color the ATP synthase red. (This is a protein that generates ATP.)
8. What is the relationship between the ETC and oxygen?
At the end of the ETC, Cytochrome C passes the ATP electrons
to the final acceptor which is oxygen. 9. Cyanide is an extremely fast acting poison. In fact, it was developed as a suicide pill (called L-pill) during World War II
so that British and American spies could avoid being captured alive. Given what you know about ATP and cellular
respiration, explain why cyanide is so fast acting.
Cyanide is fast acting due to its ability to induce extreme chemical
suffocation of cells and to disrupt enzymatic processes 10. Given what you know about cyanide poisoning, do you think that giving a person oxygen would be an effective
treatment? Why or why not?
No, because the cyanide would counteract any oxygen you give the patient. Oxygen
wouldn’t really save the patient once cyanide has started killing the person.
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