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Surprising finding in cow dung – scientists accidentally discovered a new type of Botox

Posted February 1, 2018

Botox, also known as botulinum toxin type A, is a very curious substance. People learned to use it to remove wrinkles, but it can also cause botulism in other situations. Now a team of Canadian and American scientists found a new type of Botox in a strain of animal gut bacteria known as Enterococcus faecium. This may help for medical use of Botox.

The new type of Botox was found in cow dung – Enterococcus faecium bacteria sample was extracted from cow’s feces. Image credit: Janice Haney Carr via Wikimedia

While Botox is best known for its cosmetic applications, it is actually widely used in medical theatre as well. Botox is used to treat migraines, leaky bladders, excessive sweating, and cardiac conditions. Before this new discovery, active botulinum toxin has only been found in Clostridium botulinum and its relatives. It is typically found in untreated water and soil – that is when it causes botulism and some other health issues. Discovery of the new type of Botox is a real game-changer, according to scientists, because it could be used in a huge variety of applications: from monitoring the emergence of new pathogens to the development of new protein therapeutics.

Interestingly, this study was originally designed to investigate antibiotic resistance in Enterococcus faecium. Scientists took a sample of cow faeces and extracted E. faecium and sequenced the genome of the bacterium. Some further analysis revealed that there was a gene, related to botulinum toxin in the bacterial strain. Scientists think that this gene was actually transferred from C. botulinum bacteria – this likely happened in the cow’s stomach. This discovery means that botulinum toxin can be transferred between bacteria of different species. Enterococcus faecium and Clostridium botulinum are not even related, which makes this the first time active botulinum toxin has been identified outside of C.botulinum family.

You may think that this is no big deal – we already have Botox and so far it’s been working great. It is used in plastic surgery and a huge variety of other fields, so why is it good that we now have another new type of the toxin? Michael Mansfield, one of the lead authors of the study, said: “The botulinum toxin is a powerful and versatile protein therapeutic. By finding more versions of the toxin in nature, we can potentially expand and optimize its therapeutic applications even further.”

Probably the most interesting part about this discovery is that it’s been made accidentally. Now we will have to wait and see what scientists can make of it.


Source: University of Waterloo

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