– The most toxic substance known
– Produced by anaerobic bacteria
– A form of food poisoning
– Causes nerves to fail and paralysis
– The botulinum toxin is abbreviated to Botox (yes, the one used in clinical treatment for wrinkles)
– Used by Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo
Clostridium botulinum is the anaerobic bacteria responsible for producing the botulinum toxin. The first time the toxin was identified was in late-18th century in Germany after a case of food poisoning from badly prepared sausage.
Botulinum is the most toxic substance known – natural or synthetic. Just 0.0000001g / 0.000000003oz given intravenously would be fatal to a person weighing 70kg / 154lb – it’s estimated one teaspoon would be enough to kill over 1 billion people. It kills by paralysing the muscles (including lungs and heart).
The toxin’s ability to paralyse is why its used medically (and cosmetically). A tiny bit of the toxin (extremely diluted) is injected, targeting particular muscles. Medically it’s used, for example, treating migraines, excessive sweating, crossed eyes and cosmetically it relaxes muscles that cause skin wrinkles.
The Japanese cult, Aum Shinrikyo, were the first cult to successfully use chemical weapons, however they initially tried biological attacks. In 1990 they built their first lab, with a focus on biological weapons, particularly botulinum toxin. They filled trucks with the toxin, which they sprayed near US military bases, the Imperial Palace and other sites, however, their production methods meant the toxin was harmless (the attacks went unnoticed).
To date, there hasn’t been a successful murder using botulinum toxin.