Clostridium botulinum
Colleen Koebbe

Clostridium botulinum is a gram-positive, rod shaped bacterium that must live in an anaerobic environment.  It is found in soil and marine environments throughout the world.  This bacterium forms endospores that allows for it to survive in an inactive state until conditions are suitable for growth.  These spores are highly heat tolerant.

There are seven different types of the toxin Clostridium botulinum, which are designated using the letters A-G.  Clostridium botulinum produces the neurotoxin botulin, which causes Botulism.  Only three of the strains cause botulism in humans: A, the most significant, B, and E.  Strains C and D cause botulism in non-humans.  There are five different classifications of human botulism: foodborne botulism, wound botulism, infant botulism, adult infectious botulism, and inadvertent botulism.  Foodborne botulism is the most common of the classifications.  Because Clostridium botulinum is found in marine environments, it can infect fish.  Then, we consume these contaminated fish, we ingest the toxin.  The bacterium is also in soil, which can infect vegetables growing in that soil.  Therefore, inadequate pasteurizing of vegetables can lead to ingestion of the bacterium and then botulism.

The Botulinum toxin is also used to treat muscle spasms such as torticollis and writer’s cramp.  Using the toxin to treat these spasms has recently caused inadvertent botulism.  The Botulinum toxin can also be used for the cosmetic treatment known as Botox, which reduces wrinkles.  The proteins produced by Clostridium botulinum are the most toxic known to man.  Because of this, this bacterium has been used in biological warfare.  The botulinum toxin is so powerful, it only takes a small amount (literally a few grams) to infect, and possibly kill, millions of people with little to no trace of the toxin within hours.



*Disclaimer - This report was written by a student participaring in a microbiology course at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The accuracy of the contents of this report is not guaranteed and it is recommended that you seek additional sources of information to verify the contents.


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