Navalny, a Russian anti-corruption activist and well-known critic of President Vladimir Putin, is being treated in Germany for an apparent case of poisoning by an "organophosphorus neurotoxin." But which one: the insecticide or the chemical weapon? Here are some clues.
Initial reports suggest that Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, was murdered with VX, a type of agent used in chemical warfare. What is it, and how does it work? VX is an organophosphate, a generic name for any molecular compound that contains carbon and phosphate (i.e., ions made of phosphorus and oxygen atoms). Organophosphates are found everywhere. Life-giving molecules like DNA are organophosphates, but so are some pesticides and nerve agents. Given the structure of VX (which includes a sulfur atom), it is more specifically a phosphonothioate. (See image on right.)