Pin Me

An Overview of the Bacterium Clostridium Botulinum

written by: Rafael•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 12/22/2009

Lean about the bacterium Clostridium botulinum - where it lives, and the potential harm it can do to humans.

  • slide 1 of 4

    Clostridium Botulinum

    According to the Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases (DFBMD) of the Centers for Diseases Control, the bacterium Clostridium botulinum are rod-shaped, gram positive bacteria that live primarily in the soil. This group of bacteria are obligate anaerobes and live in environments with very low concentrations of oxygen. In fact, oxygen is poisonous to them. In addition, Clostridium botulinum bacteria produce a group of neurotoxins (named with letters, from A to G) that cause botulism.

  • slide 2 of 4

    What Kingdom Would you Find Clostridium Botulinum?

    Biologically, organisms are grouped in a hierarchy going from the very specific (the name of the species) to broad categories (Kingdoms, Domains, etc). As you go up in the hierarchy you have broader groups. So a group of species conform a genus (i.e. the genus Clostridium, which have the species Perkins, botulinum, argentinense, etc). A group of genuses form a Family, a group of families, an Order, then Classes, Phylums, Kingdoms, and Domains.

    Kingdom classification is an area of knowledge in constant ongoing research, discussion, and change. From the original Linnaeus kingdom classification of Vegetabilia (plants), Animalia (animals) and Mineralia (minerals) we have come to a 6 kingdom system of classification: Plantae (green and red algae, and plants), Unikonta (amoebas, fungi, and animals), Excavata (free-living and parasitic protists), SAR (acronym for Stramenopiles, Alveolates, and Rhizaria), Bacteria, and Archaea.

    Clostridium botulinum pertains, as of today, to the kingdom of Bacteria. Bacteria are a group of unicellular organisms typically with few micrometers in length, and a variety of shapes (spheres, rods, spirals). Generally, bacteria do not have membrane-bound organelles, thus. They do not possess a nucleus, mitochondria, chloroplasts or the other organelles present in eukaryotic cells.

  • slide 3 of 4

    What is Botulism?

    Botulism is a serious disease caused by the neurotoxins generated by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. It is a paralytic illness, that although rare, has emerged increasingly in recent times. Botulism can have a food origin (ingestion of foods that contain botulinum toxins), a wound origin (a person can get infected by the bacterium though a wound) or by ingesting spores (especially in infants). Ingestion of spores of the botulinum bacteria by infants (honey for example) will cause the bacteria to grow in the acidic environment of the child intestines and release the toxin.

    Botulism can be a fatal disease and must be considered a medical emergency. Any suspected case must be treated immediately. Common signs of botulism are: double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. In infants botulism causes them to be lethargic, constipated, to have a weak cry and poor muscle tone. If untreated botulism may cause paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk and respiratory muscles. Death is caused by respiratory failure.