Molecule of the Day

Last year, we were fretting about melamine contamination in foods from China. Again, this week, it’s happening – melamine was put into milk by some unscrupulous vendors. The idea here is that melamine is high in nitrogen and cheap. An easy way to get an idea of how much protein is in something is to assay for nitrogen – by cutting milk with water and adding melamine, the unscrupulous can pass off watered down milk as full-strength.

It’s become enough of a concern that it’s hit US shores again and WHO is working on a test kit.


There’s a very good chance it will involve cyanuric acid, which forms a water-insoluble complex with melamine, causing clouding. This same interaction has been used to test for cyanuric acid in swimming pools. Interestingly, this seems to be part of why melamine is so toxic. Melamine actually hydrolyzes to cyanurate, which leads to the insoluble melamine-cyanurate complex precipitating in the kidneys.

See also: Terra Sig on this.


  1. #1 Palaboy
    September 30, 2008

    There issues about milk products coming from china that has melamine in it has spread worldwide. People around the world are scared that their foods are also contaminated with melamine. Philippines have started to pull milk products in groceries that are suspected of high melamine content . Here’s 52 Milk Products that could be banned due to high Melamine Content in the Philippines.

  2. #2 Uncle Al
    September 30, 2008

    Melamine is essentially non-toxic. Its metabolite cyanuric acid (go ahead, be a man, let’s see those imidols) is essentially non-toxic. Both are excreted through the kidneys where they together form an amazingly insoluble salt.

    The suitable remediation is to find the management that made the decision and feed them their own products.

  3. #3 web
    October 4, 2008

    Oh, so it�s like watered down beer, only with deadly consequences.

  4. #4 Rick Quarton
    October 15, 2008

    Thanks for the article. I’m just a regular guy. I don’t belong to the scientific community but I’ve been shocked to read about the ever expanding scandal and tragedy with the Chinese milk supply. But being a layman, I never knew what melamine was or why and how it would get into the milk supply. Now I get it. Somebody’s soon to retire from the milk industry in China, and probably from the planet also.

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