A plasmid coding for the anthrax toxin has been found in a sample of Bacillus cereus taken from a person who survived a life-threatening pneumonia symptomatic of inhaled anthrax. The finding, reported in the advanced online edition of PNAS, is the first time the complete plasmid has been found in any naturally occurring microbe other than Bacillus anthracis.

The study grew out of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) review of reported cases of unusually severe illnesses caused by these or other Bacillus species. The researchers did not study cases of anthrax of the skin. They note that 2 years ago, other scientists found one of the genes for the anthrax toxin in two fatal cases of pneumonia caused by B. cereus. But those samples were not further characterized, so if the plasmid was present, it was not found.

B. cereus is known to cause food poisoning,...

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