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Government funded researchers in New York and Maryland have announced a breakthrough in creating an antidote for botulinum toxin, a bioweapon that Aum Shinrikyo attempted to use in the 1990s. The versatile toxin also plays a role in botulism, a paralytic illness that can be contracted through contaminated food, and in the cosmetic injection botox, where the paralytic qualities of the toxin are used to smooth wrinkles.
As a potential weapon, botulinum toxin is exceptionally lethal. A gram has the ability to kill one million people. It is not difficult to obtain and it is easy to transport.
While current concerns focus on terrorist use of the toxin, governments were the first to explore its potential as a weapon:
Weaponization of the botulium toxin has been ongoing for more than 50 years in many countries, including Japan, Iraq, and the former Soviet Union, and terroristshave already attempted to use the toxin in attacks. Whileuse of the toxin in food and drink may prove to be the way terrorists deliver the agent, many experts believe that aerosol dispersion poses the greatest threat.5 The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo attempted to disperse aerosols of the toxin throughout Japan from 1990 to 1995. They obtained Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that produce the toxin, from soil, because the bacteria exist in nature and are easy to obtain. (Deborah Glik, Kim Harrison, Mehrnaz Davoudi, Deborah Riopelle, "Public Perceptions and Risk Communications for Botulism," Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense strategy, Practice and Science, v. 2, no. 3, 2004)
According to the scientists working on the antidote, it will be four or five years before a drug is created. In the meantime, scientists at City of Hope and the California Department of Public Health have created a new test for the botulinum toxin. The lead researcher, Markus Kalkum, says the new test is "at least ten thousand times more sensitive and produces results much faster than the current detection method…".Read more: Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack