The Use of Toxins in Applied Microbiology

Botulism has long been a feared disease in humans. The disease results from an intoxication that can result from eating foods that are improperly canned. It has been common throughout history and usually fatal. While modern technology has helped to reduce the incidence of the disease, there are still approximately 50 cases of it annually in the United State It is caused by an exotoxin associated with the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This bacterium is closely related to the bacterium that results in tetanus. Both of these diseases affect the neuromuscular junctions. However, despite its rather alarming profile for centuries, today, the bacterium that causes botulism is used in medical treatment, particularly cosmetic procedures. "Botox" has become an exceptionally popular and accepted form of cosmetic surgery.

The bacterium Clostridium botulinum is a gram-positive, rod-shaped bacterium that has long been associated with improperly or poorly canned food products. It produces several forms of an exotoxin that attack the nervous system in mammals. While the bacterium produces multiple forms of an exotoxin, only several of the types are a neurotoxin. However, this neurotoxic activity is the cause of paralysis that is seen in the disease botulism. In botulism, the paralysis eventually paralyzes the respiratory muscles of the individual, leading to respiratory arrest and eventually death. However, these same neurotoxins, when used in controlled applications, offer several benefits in the medical world.

The bacterium is an obligate anaerobe; this indicates that the bacterium cannot survive in the presence of oxygen. The bacterium can withstand very small amounts of oxygen as a result of an antioxidant it produces. However, in this environment, it does not produce its exotoxins. Facultative anaerobes can survive in the presence of oxygen. Since the bacterium requires an oxygen-poor environment, the process of canning food provides the ideal situation for its growth and reproduction. The canning process removes oxygen from the container in an effort to preserve the food. However, it is crucial to ensure that the food is properly preserved and does not contain this bacterium. The bacterium produces spores and is commonly found in the soil and the environment. The bacterium only produces the neurotoxin in the ideal environment.

The optimum temperature for it to grow is 35 degrees Celsius. However, it can grow in a range of temperatures. It has been grown at a low temperature of 1-5 degrees Celsius. In the laboratory, it is grown on ordinary media. The spores, however, are quite resistance to temperature. The spores can survive an exposure to 100 degrees Celsius for several hours at a time. They can survive 120 degrees Celsius for ten minutes. Additionally, the spores are resistant to radiation. For this reason, they pose a significant danger for contamination. The spores are exceptionally hardy in surviving attempts to destroy them.

The bacterium is considered non-infectious and non-invasive. It is important to recognize that it is the exotoxins produce by the bacterium that causes a physical response in humans and other mammals. There are three types of botulism: food-borne, infant and wound botulism. Food-borne has already been discussed as a result of improper canning of food products. Specifically, food-borne botulism results from types A, B, and E. Infant botulism results when infants ingest spores. Since infants do not have a completely functioning immune system, they are at greater danger when ingesting spores. The spores and toxins are passed into the fecal matter. Wound botulism rarely occurs. It is the result of spores infecting the wound of an individual. The toxins are then absorbed into the circulatory system.

Originally, the bacterium was classified in the genus of Bacillus. This occurred in the 19th Century after it was isolated from a food poisoning epidemic. However, this was an improper classification; Bacillus only properly refers to aerobic spore-formers. Since the bacterium produces the spores during anaerobic periods, it was later changed to the genus of Clostridium.

In the 1980s, the toxin was discovered to have medicinal properties. The toxin was marketed under the brand name of Botox. At present time, millions use it annually as a method to both stop the appearance of wrinkles and reduce the incidence of migraines. While the medication was first utilized as a treatment to stop uncontrollable blinking, physicians soon began to recognize that it also removed the wrinkles around the eye area. This was a result of the paralysis of the muscles. Physicians quickly began to utilize it as an off-label treatment and created a temporary face lift for individuals. As a result of its extensive use, individuals who suffered from migraines also noted that the incidence of their migraines decreased with its use. It is not known how Botox reduces the incidence of migraines at this time. However, the treatment must be repeated every few months or the wrinkles and migraines will return. It is important to recognize that there are serious potential side effects from the use of Botox. If a physician does not target the site of the injections correctly, excessive paralysis of the facial muscles may occur. This may lead to drooping eyelids, slurred speech and even drooling in the individual. These signs and symptoms can mimic a stroke in the individual or a case of Bell's palsy, which is also produced by paralysis in the facial muscles. For this reason, it is crucial for an individual to understand that all medical procedures carry some degree of risk. It is also important that an individual choose a physician who has received a significant degree of training in the procedure. However, despite the known risks, it is doubtful that Botox will disappear any time soon.