The Holocaust on a Molecular Level
Zyklon B is one of the most infamous poisons on Earth. It is associated with mass death and the most evil man in history and his Final Solution. This gas was used to exterminate six million people during World War II. Zyklon B is very deadly and kills in just minutes. It works by affecting the electron transport chain of cells. There are several ways that one can succumb to death by this poison, ingestion, inhalation, and even absorption through the skin.
Firstly, in order to understand how Zyklon B causes death in cells, one must understand how the cells work normally when they are healthy. Cells need energy to grow and maintain their functions. In cells, a majority of energy is carried in the form of a transport molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). The metabolism of molecules such as glucose and lipids release energy that is used to make more ATP. ATP is an energy carrier that allows cells to utilize energy derived from food. Without ATP, a cell will die, as will the organism itself. If a chemical interrupts a cell's ATP producing machinery, that cell will die once it runs out of ATP. Zyklon B eliminates a cell's ability to produce ATP.
Almost all ATP is produced in the mitochondria, a small cellular organelle. The mitochondria are, in essence, the power plants of a cell. A mitochondrion has two membranes, an inner one and an outer one. The outer membrane is highly permeable, and it will allow just about anything through. The inner membrane, on the other hand, is almost impermeable. Only carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O) and oxygen (O2) can pass through this membrane without transport proteins to carry them across.
Cells produce ATP through a combination of the electron transport system (ETS) and oxidative phosphorylation (OP), both occur in the mitochondrial inner membrane. The electron transport system can be compared to an electric motor, where current supplied to...