The road to Botulism starts with a simple Clostridium botulinum
. This bacteria has not been infected by the proper bacteriophage yet, so it has yet to become the tougher and virulent strain people associate with this particular bacteria. As with all other organisms in this world, this C. botulinum
suffers an attack by a virus (of course, the ones that specifically target bacteria are called bacteriophages). What is fortunate for the bacteria is this 'phage will not undergo a lytic cycle of multiplication, which would have essentially lysed the bacteria with all the virions being created inside it like some bad horror movie (aka that one Cloverfield scene). Instead this temperate bacteriophage goes inactive and it's viral DNA becomes one with the C. botulinum
to make it virulent and able to release toxin into the environment. This process of lysogenic conversion is one of a handful of methods of gene exchange that is important to the evolution and changes to the genetic makeup of bacteria, as they can not increase diversity via reproduction. It should also be noted that as a member of the genus Clostridium
, C. botulinum
has the natural ability to produce endospores, a nifty trick some bacteria (some pathogenic, some not) can do to withstand a harsh environment (like extreme heat when boiling the liquid or food it might be in) and can only be killed by burning or an autoclave.
The next step would be for the bacteria (an obligate anaerobe) to contaminate an environment with plenty of nutrients but low amounts of oxygen, like a can of food. Swollen cans are an obvious sign for an anaerobe infestation as no other microorganism could handle the low oxygen and anaerobes still give off some gas byproducts in either fermentation or anaerobic respiration.
Once the contaminated food is consumed, the toxins the virulent bacteria produce works to inhibit the release of acetylcholine, which is necessary for muscles to respond to nerve impulses to contract. Death from Botulism is due to respiratory failure when a patient loses their ability to contract the diaphragm. As one of the most deadly toxins known to humans, it takes less than .0001 milligrams to kill a healthy adult.
As a side note, Botulinum toxin
is also used in medical procedures, some of which happen to be cosmetic. ( Read more...Collapse )