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Deadly extent of common food poisoning bacterium revealed

A recent study has shown that Bacillus cereus can produce 19 different variants of its poison; a poison that causes nausea and vomiting. This finding explains why some cases of food poisoning from this bacterium are benign whilst others can result in death.

Bacillus cereus is most commonly found in soil. It can survive extreme environments by being able to form hardy spores. In terms of food poisoning it is associated with the so-termed “fried rice syndrome”, given that food poisoning cases from this organism are contracted from fried rice dishes that have been sitting at room temperature for hours. Because the bacterium can produce spores, if it grows from long enough, then reheating the rice is not sufficient and the food remains at risk.

The toxins from the bacterium can cause two types of illness: one type characterized by diarrhea and the other, called emetic toxin, by nausea and vomiting. The toxin attacks the membrane of living cells. Food poisoning results from this toxin production in the gastrointestinal tract.

By developing a method, based on mass spectrometry, to analyse scientists based at the Technische Universität München (TUM) and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, have now discovered that the toxin comes in 19 variants. This is related to variations in chemical structure.

Other than being of scientific interest, the research could be medically important. The research could be an important starting point for the accurate detection of the toxic bacteria.

The findings have been published in the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. The research paper is headed “Chemodiversity of cereulide, the emetic toxin of Bacillus cereus.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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