Botulinum toxin is the most poisonous substance known. It is derived from
bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. A number of countries have
developed or are developing the toxin as a bioweapon. Experts consider it a
major threat because of its lethality and relative ease of production. However,
the well-financed Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo tried to spray aerosols of the
toxin at least three times without success.
Botulism is the disease triggered when the toxin gets absorbed through the gut,
lungs, or an open wound. It does not penetrate skin. The toxin affects
neurotransmitters, causing permanent nerve damage, paralysis, and when
untreated, respiratory failure and death. Natural cases of botulism are rare
and typically result from contamination of home-canned foods.