Details of new botulinum toxin withheld

This photomicrograph shows the botulinum bacteria that produces a nerve toxin causing botulism, a rare, paralyzing illness.

 CDC

A new botulinum toxin has emerged, and its discoverers are keeping its genetic identity a secret.

Scientists describe the toxin in two papers appearing in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, but they witheld full genetic details of the new bacterial strain that produces it to prevent people from developing the poison into a bioweapon. The decision mirrors the debate over whether to publish full details of work on the H5N1 bird flu.

The bacterium Clostridium botulinum produces toxins that cause botulism, a rare illness that can paralyze infected people. The toxins causing the illness are among the most poisonous substances identified to date. Scientists are concerned about releasing full details of the new bacterial strain and its toxin because there is currently no treatment against its effects.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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