Wilted Cherry Leaves Kill

It is widely known that, to cows, wilted cherry leaves are deadly poisonous. Every cattle farmer is well acquainted with this fact. Yet, I, as a chemist, for years have wondered why. Surely it has to be a matter of chemistry, I realized. Indeed, that is the case. Cherry Fruits Wild cherries are bitter, but to the aficionado (and I am one), the tiny fruits called wild cherries, are quite delicious, especially when made into the intensely-flavored wild cherry jelly. Curiously, these fruits contain substances that could be quite dangerous, except for the lack of substances called enzymes that would convert them into poisons. One of those chemicals is amygdalin, seen in the image below. Note—in the upper right-hand corner of the molecule—are two atoms. One of the atoms is…
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The Hydrolysis of Acetonitrile or Methyl Cyanide

Hydrolysis of acetonitrile (the adding of water to its triple bond) is a useful synthetic procedure. Alkali metals such as sodium (Na) and potassium (K) attached to the cyanide group (carbon and nitrogen joined by three bonds, ‒C≡N or -CN for short) is deadly poisonous. One factor making it so poisonous is most inorganic cyanides ionize in water. Dissolving cyanides separates the cation (for example, Na⁺) from the cyanide ion, ‒CN⁻. When an organic group is attached to ‒CN, the group is not ionized, even if the organic is water soluble. In such a case, the compound is called a nitrile. Nitriles are generally much safer to handle.* What some might call methyl cyanide, CH₃CN, is more accurately acetonitrile. Why acetonitrile? Hydrolysis of the ‒CN group produces acetic acid. Hydrolysis…
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