As a military or terrorist weapon, botulinum toxin could be disseminated via aerosol or by contamination of water or food supplies, causing widespread casualties. A fascinating aspect of botulinum toxin research in recent years has been development of the most potent toxin into a molecule of significant therapeutic utility. It is the first biological toxin which is licensed for treatment of human diseases.
Since the 9/11 and anthrax letter events in 2001, the possibility of a biological attack on this country by terrorists has become an unfortunate reality. Botulinum toxin has always been on the list of top bioweapon candidate agents, because of its extremely high toxicity: 50–100 times more toxic orally than sodium cyanide.
Devastating crop loss caused by anticrop terrorism is certainly within the realm of possibility, but there are many obstacles to successful implementation. While there are many examples of terrible crop destructions by plant pests, the manipulation of these agents as biological warfare agents to destroy crops on a wide scale by terrorist states or groups faces severe technical challenges.
Remember also that in addition to the possibility of terrorism and the usual types of botulism — foodborne, wound, and infant — we now have to worry about botulism from therapeutic misadventure. Last year, four people developed clinical botulism allegedly after being injected with a bootleg botox knockoff at a Florida clinic.
It might seem hard to believe that just a few grams of toxin, much of it inactivated by pasteurization, could harm so many people. But that, in the eye of the terrorists, is the beauty of botulism: just one one-millionth of a gram may be enough to poison and eventually kill an adult. It is likely that more than half the people who drink the contaminated milk would succumb.
Recently, the New York Times published an opinion piece that served as a bioterrorism threat assessment. Entitled "Got Toxic Milk" and written by Stanford University professor Lawrence M. Wein, it made the claim that a single terrorist could contaminate the milk supply with a lethal toxin by following the instructions in a jihadi manual available on the Internet.
After all these finicky years of fighting everyday germs and inevitable mortality with fancy products, Americans are now confronted with the specter of terrorists in crop dusters and hazardous-waste trucks spreading really terrifying, deadly toxins like plague, smallpox, blister agents, nerve gas and botulism.
Black market labs that manufacture the beauty drug Botox could also provide terrorists with the deadly botulinum toxin, officials and security experts warn. U.S. scientists found that a biologist with a master's degree and $2,000 worth of equipment could easily make enough pure toxin to theoretically kill thousands of people...
The Virtual Biosecurity Center (VBC) is a global multi-organizational initiative spearheaded by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) committed to countering the threat posed by the development or use of biological weapons and the responsible use of science and technology.
Now, all drugs have biological activity, or they wouldn’t be drugs. But some of them are definitely more active than others, and BTX is at the far end of the scale. To give you the idea, on a mg-per-kilo basis, I believe that its fatal dose is at least five orders of magnitude lower than Sarin nerve gas, a fact that will definitely make an industrial safety director sit down and think about career options. There are quite a few wildly toxic peptides and proteins, since they’ve had plenty of time for evolution to sharpen the spear points, but to the best of my knowledge, botulinum is the winner.
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Quick detection. This 2-cm-wide chip (inset) can quickly test for botulism, a deadly disease caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium.
Quick detection. This 2-cm-wide chip (inset) can quickly test for botulism, a deadly disease caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium. GARY GAUGLER/SCIENCE SOURCE; (INSET) CHRISTIAN LÉVÊQUE/INSERM/UNIVERSITÉ D'AIX-MARSEILLE IN PROVENCE, FRANCE
This Chip Can Tell If You've Been Poisoned
By Jules WellinghoffApr. 25, 2014 , 11:30 AM
When you are dealing with a deadly poison that can be found in food and is a potential terrorist weapon, you want the best detection tools you can get. Now, researchers in France have demonstrated an improved method to detect the most deadly variant of the botulinum neurotoxin, which causes botulism. Their test provides results faster than the standard method and accurately detects even low concentrations of the toxin.
Scientists have discovered the first new form of botulinum toxin in over 40 years, but they're taking the unusual step of keeping key details about it secret.
That's because botulinum toxin is one of the most poisonous substances known. It causes botulism, and the newly identified form of it can't be neutralized by any available treatment.
“There is a lot of controversy around botulism being used as a bioweapon and my major concern — and why this hasn’t happened is interesting and I’m not sure why, nor do I want it to happen — but I’m concerned that it could be used in the food supply,” said Dr. Eric A. Johnson, professor of bacteriology in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s (UW-M) Department of Bacteriology.
Surveillance systems overview...
Despite skepticism that botulinum poison could be concentrated, stabilized, and aerosolized to make an effective military weapon against a specific enemy target, a botulinum attack against civilian targets may prove disturbingly effective. An aerosol release of botulinum toxins from a single point can kill or incapacitate 10% to 0.5 miles downwind of the release.
Botulism is classified as a Category A bioterrorism agent because of its ease of dissemination and high mortality rate. When used as a biological weapon, botulinum toxin is most likely to be dispersed as an aerosol for inhalation, although it could be added to the food or water supply.
A supply of antitoxin against infant botulism is maintained by the California Department of Public Health’s Infant Botulism Treatment and Prevention Program, and a supply of antitoxin against other kinds of botulism is maintained by CDC. The antitoxin is most effective in reducing the severity of symptoms if administered early in the course of the disease. Most patients eventually recover after weeks to months of supportive care.
Latest news on Botulism. Our goal is to prevent illness and death from infectious diseases through epidemiologic research and the rapid translation of scientific information into real-world practical applications and solutions.
To prevent botulism:
- Be very careful when canning foods at home
- Do not let babies eat honey
-Get prompt medical care for infected wounds
Safety and health topics: botulism
Botulinum toxin is a major threat as a bioweapon due to its extreme potency and ability to cause death, its ease of production and transport, and the need for prolonged intensive care among survivors. Botulinum toxin is the most poisonous substance known to man. A single gram of crystalline botulinum toxin, evenly dispersed and inhaled, could kill more than 1 million people. It is 15,000 to 100,000 times more toxic than sarin, the destructive nerve agent used in the Tokyo subway system.