On 10/Oct/2013 / In Medical News
.New type of botulinum toxin is first to be discovered in 40 years
.But only scant details of it have been released in a recent journal article over fears it could be used as a potent new bioweapon
.Fears arose because botulinum toxin is so poisonous - and a newly discovered form would be impossible to neutralise
The first new type of botulinum toxin has been discovered in more than 40 years - but scientists are so worried about the danger it poses to humanity that they're keeping its details secret. Fears arose because botulinum toxin is so poisonous - and a newly discovered form would not be able to be neutralised.
NPR reports that some details of the new form have been published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases - but certain details have been omitted to prevent the toxin from being used in biological warfare. The journal's editor, David Hooper, told the website that while detailed reporting was usually required for research to be published in a journal, a rare exception had been made in this case. He added that a normal requirement would be to discuss the genetic sequences needed to make the toxin. But because this would pose a security risk, it was decided the information should remain secret until treatments have been developed.
'There was enough scientific importance that we did not want to delay the publication,' Dr Hooper, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told NPR. The decision is one of many of late that has raised the issue of scientific information being used for negative reasons. Some people have voiced concerns that information about new technology is too widely available - posing health and security threats.
Botulinum toxin is a protein and neurotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum - and is the most acutely toxic substance known. It can be extremely dangerous and potentially fatal when ingested by humans or when it appears in a wound infection or a baby's gastrointestinal tract.
As a neurotoxin, botulinum toxin has a powerful effect on the body’s nerve cells - it can block signals that nerve cells are attempting to send to the brain or to different muscles, which can result in partial paralysis. The condition, called botulism, can be fatal if left untreated. Scientists from the Californian Department of Public Health were behind the new form that has been discovered. They used stool samples from babies with botulism to identify which toxin is causing the disease.
In the course of their research, they also found a toxin that can't be neutralised by any of the currently available anti-botulinum antiserums. Independent experts such as David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University, were asked to help decide whether crucial details of the new findings should be published.
He told NPR: 'This toxin has unusual risks and consequences for human health,' adding that the journal's decision to withhold the information had been correct. 'I want to applaud the authors for acting in a way that I think was responsible and prudent.'
By ANNA HODGEKISS
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