Botulinum toxin is a powerful and complex neurotoxic protein produced by Clostridium botulinum, an anaerobic spore-forming rod-shaped bacterium that causes a fatal muscle paralysis known as Botulism.
There are three major forms of Botulism. Food borne botulism occurs when a person consumes food infected with the bacterium. Wound botulism occurs when the bacterium enters through the wounds and causes infection. Infant botulism occurs when the bacteria grow in the intestine of infants and release toxins.
The bacterium primarily exists in two forms including vegetative cells and spores. Ideal conditions of growth for this bacterium include anaerobic environments that are devoid of oxygen, low acidity levels and temperatures between 40°F and 120°F. Vegetative cells produce the toxin. It is easy to destroy vegetative cells using oxygen. However, the spores are mostly heat resistant. The toxin released by the cells is highly potent. Even a tiny amount of the toxin is sufficient to kill a human. There are seven different types of botulinum neurotoxin that are classified as A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Only types A, B, E and F cause illnesses in humans. Out of these, botulinum toxins type A and type B are in clinical use.
Botulinum toxin is stable in neutral and alkaline foods. It is easy to destroy botulinum toxin. Extreme temperatures that are either below +4°C or above 85°C are useful in degrading the neurotoxin. In addition, conditions such as acidic pH and oxygenated environment are helpful in destroying the botulinum toxin. The toxin is destroyed within 20 minutes by standard potable drinking water treatment that involves chlorination and aeration. Aerosolized botulinum toxin degrades at a rate of 1 percent to 4 percent per minute.