Secret Botulism Paper Published

The discovery of a new form of the deadly botulinum toxin gets published, but its sequence is kept under wraps until an antidote is developed.

By | October 18, 2013

Clostridium botulinum growing on agarWIKIMEDIA, MATTHIAS M.In a publishing first, the sequence of a newly discovered protein is not divulged in papers announcing the finding. Researchers at the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento discovered the protein, a new type of the extremely dangerous botulinum toxin, lurking in the feces of a child who displayed the symptoms of botulism. They published their findings in two reports on the website of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, but absent from either paper was the DNA sequence of the protein, the eighth form of botulinum toxin recovered from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The move represents the first time that a DNA sequence has been omitted from such a paper. “Because no antitoxins as yet have been developed to counteract the novel C. Botulinum toxin,” wrote editors at The Journal of Infectious Diseases, “the authors had detailed consultations with representatives from numerous appropriate US government agencies.”

These agencies, which included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security, approved publication of the papers so long as the gene sequence that codes for the new protein was left out. According to New Scientist, the sequence will be published as soon as antibodies are identified that effectively combat the toxin, which appears to be part of a whole new branch on the protein’s family tree.

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