Is there a poison without an antidote?

Poison without antidote

Two researchers from California's health department have discovered a new botulinum toxin - in a stool sample from a child who had botulism. The new toxin has the letter H.

"So far we have only known seven different types of botulinum toxins, which are identified with the letters A to G. There have been antibodies that can neutralize each of these seven types of botulinum for a long time. We can use them to treat people who have been poisoned by spoiled food. With the help of antibodies we can cure them ","

says biosafety expert David Relman from Stanford University in California. The explorers themselves do not want to express themselves - the topic is too sensitive for them.

"" The problem with the new toxin - type H - is that we don't have antibodies against it. The conventional antibodies do not work. So there is no effective therapy. That is why the new poison poses such an extraordinary threat to public health. The other botulinum toxins in general are of course also very worrying. But at least we have antibodies to mitigate the risks a bit. "

The researchers from the California health authority had deciphered the bacterial DNA sequence, they practically had the blueprint for the new toxin in their hands. Then they decided to take an unusual step. They have published their findings about the new botulinum toxin in the "Journal of Infectious Diseases" - but without the DNA sequence. They had discussed it with the US Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control. David Relman, who advised the "Journal of Infectious Diseases" on the matter, says: a good decision.

"I read the study with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I thought, this is a very important discovery, because this poison exists out there. It is not something that a scientist created in the laboratory. It is important that the world of this Experienced new, natural poison. On the other hand, I have also seen the great danger that goes hand in hand with the publication of the DNA sequence. Because with this information every reasonably trained molecular biologist is able to recreate the toxin in the laboratory. "

Actually, says David Relman, he is always in favor of research results being published in full. This is how science works: This is the only way that many researchers can deal with the topic and contribute new knowledge. On the other hand, there is too much fear that terrorists could recreate the poison for which there is no antidote and cause great damage. Relman:

"A few years ago a professor from Stanford used computer models to calculate what would happen if someone here in the US put a few grams of botulinum toxin in a milk truck or milk tank. And the models indicate that there would be tens of thousands of deaths. That would be one Example, and the consequences for the population would be devastating. "

Therefore it is right not to publish the DNA sequences in this case for the time being. But such a radical step must remain the absolute exception in the scientific community, says David Relman. The sequences are not held back forever either.

"For me it makes perfect sense to publish the DNA sequences as soon as suitable antibodies have been developed. As soon as we can take countermeasures."

The California Health Department is probably already working on it.