Research Sheds Light on Toxin in Seeds Eaten by McCandless

Posted on 2/23/2015 11:52:26 AM
H. Alpinum Seeds

A recent study confirms and quantifies the presence of a toxic amino acid, L-canavanine, in the H. alpinum seeds that likely contributed to the death of Chris McCandless in the backcountry of Alaska.

A peer-reviewed research article in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine describes a study that follows up research by Wendy Gruber (BS Biochemistry, 2004) under the direction of Jonathan Southard of the IUP Chemistry Department.

The full article can be read online: Jon Krakauer, Ying Long, Andrew Kolbert, Shri Thanedar, Jonathan Southard. “Presence of L-canavanine in Hedysarum Alpinum Seeds and Its Potential Role in the Death of Chris McCandless.” Wilderness and Environmental Medicine 26 (March 2015): 36–42.

The original investigation was initiated to test a hypothesis regarding the toxicity of the seeds proposed by Ronald Hamilton, formerly of the IUP Libraries. McCandless is the subject of lead author Jon Krakauer’s widely read book Into the Wild.

Jon Krakauer has described steps in the quest to understand the toxicity of these seeds in an original and updated article in the New Yorker online.