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Genome of Botulism Bacterium Revealed

The Botulism bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, produces the world's most lethal toxin. Less than 2 kg is enough to wipe off humanity from the face of the earth! Botox , that contains miniscule amounts of the toxin, is used medically.

Now, the genome of the organism is exposed. The report in Genome Research reveals that the bacterium does not possess the means to escape human defences or resist antibiotics. C. botulinum exists as a dormant spore or a scavenger of decaying animal remains in the soil; its interaction with human or other large animal hosts does not involve long periods of time.

Occasionally it gets into a living animal, via contaminated food or open wounds, leading to infant botulism or wound botulism, both of which are serious human infections. The host can be quickly overpowered and, in some cases, killed by the toxin, and C. botulinum has a new food source.

"Although in the same group as Clostridium difficile - the Cdiff superbug - C. botulinum has a genome that is remarkable because it is so stable, "commented Dr Mohammed Sebaihia, lead author on the paper from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "Unlike Cdiff, in which more than 10% of genes have been acquired from other bacteria, there is almost no footprint of these in C. botulinum."

There are several types of C. botulinum: although described as variants of a single species, they are really very different organisms linked simply because they have the deadly toxin. For each type, there is also a near-identical but harmless relative that lacks the toxin. C. sporogenes is the non-malignant, near twin of the organism sequenced.

Professor Mike Peck, from the Institute of Food Research, commented that "It is astonishing that 43% of the predicted genes in the C. botulinum genome are absent from the other five sequenced clostridia, and only 16% of the C. botulinum genes are common to all five. Our findings emphasise just how different
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