January 19, 2005

Mollusks Said Can Neutralize Toxin

DARTMOUTH, Mass. (AP) -- The war on terror could have an unlikely ally in a modest mollusk known as the quahog.

Researchers who injected the clams with enough botulism toxin to kill 1,000 people found the shellfish somehow neutralized the enzyme, which is considered a potential bioterror agent.

"Botulism activity was cut in half by the blood of the quahog," Dr. Bal Ram Singh told The Standard Times of New Bedford in Wednesday's editions. "So we think there is some sort of antidote in this blood. If we are able to get that molecule - and this is a long process - that might be very useful for human beings."

Singh, a chemist who has been searching for a botulism antidote under a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, started with small amounts and increased the injections until scientists were pumping the shellfish with a milligram of the toxin.

But the botulism, a muscle relaxant, had little effect on the quahogs. The researchers noticed that the water the shellfish were in became cloudy, a sign that they were secreting mucous.

"We could inject a quahog with enough poison to kill 100,000 people, and it wouldn't die," Singh said. "Something in the quahog appears to destroy enough of the toxin in order to survive it. There will be more to this story."