Clostridium botulinum: A bug with beauty and weapon

Hem D. Shukla, S. K. Sharma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Clostridium botulinum, a Gram-positive, anaerobic spore-forming bacteria, is distinguished by its significant clinical applications as well as its potential to be used as bioterror agent. Growing cells secrete botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT), the most poisonous of all known poisons. While BoNT is the causative agent of deadly neuroparalytic botulism, it also serves as a remarkably effective treatment for involuntary muscle disorders such as blepharospasm, strabismus, hemifacial spasm, certain types of spasticity in children, and other ailments. BoNT is also used in cosmetology for the treatment of glabellar lines, and is well-known as the active component of the anti-aging medications Botox® and Dysport®. In addition, recent reports show that botulinum neurotoxin can be used as a tool for pharmaceutical drug delivery. However, BoNT remains the deadliest of all toxins, and is viewed by biodefense researchers as a possible agent of bioterrorism (BT). Among seven serotypes, C. botulinum type A is responsible for the highest mortality rate in botulism, and thus has the greatest potential to act as biological weapon. Genome sequencing of C. botulinum type A Hall strain (ATCC 3502) is now complete, and has shown the genome size to be 3.89 Mb with a G+C content of approximately 28.2%. The bacterium harbors a 16.3 kb plasmid with a 26.8% G+C content-slightly lower than that of the chromosome. Most of the virulence factors in C. botulinum are chromosomally encoded; bioinformatic analysis of the genome sequence has shown that the plasmid does not harbor toxin genes or genes for related virulence factors. Interestingly, the plasmid does harbor genes essential to replication, including dnaE, which encodes the alpha subunit of DNA polymerase III which has close similarity with its counterpart in C. perfringens strain 13. The plasmid also contains similar genes to those that encode the ABC-type multidrug transport ATPase, and permease. The presence of ABC-type multidrug transport ATPase, and permease suggests putative involvement of efflux pumps in bacteriocin production, modification, and export in C. botulinum. The C. botulinum plasmid additionally harbors genes for LambdaBa04 prophage and site-specific recombinase that are similar to those found in the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis; these genes and their products may play a role in genomic rearrangement. Completion of genome sequencing for C. botulinum will provide an opportunity to design genomic and proteomic-based systems for detecting different serotypes of C. botulinum strains in the environment. The completed sequence may also facilitate identification of potential virulence factors and drug targets, as well as help characterize neurotoxin-complexing proteins, their polycistronic expression, and phylogenetic relationships between different serotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-18
Number of pages8
JournalCritical Reviews in Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2005


  • Bioweapon
  • Botulism
  • C. botulinum
  • Genome
  • Neurotransmitter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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