Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Yesterday at a trade show I ran into a guy who used to work for the competition, but with whom I struck up a friendship since I kept running into him. He now works at a biotech that makes botox for injection. I commented that he must have learned a lot of biology after he went to work for this company, and he said yes, since he spent the first two months reading while waiting for his security clearance to come through. The cultures and toxin purified from Clostridium botulinum is classified as a weapon for mass destruction, and anyone handling high concentrations has to have security clearance. The bacteria are grown in fermenters, but since it sporulates and can become airborne, workers in the room must wear respirators and shower and wash their hair when leaving the room (they had to add an extra shower so they could have staffing flexibility - in case of an accident, everyone would have to shower immediately). There are multiple layers of pass codes and in some cases key locks depending on the amounts of materials in the rooms. An injection uses about 1-10 nanograms and anything over about 10 ng requires the extra security. This is one great big mother of a protein, 150,000 daltons, and the biology is quite fascinating. Proteins this large are a class of chemistry unto themselves. Since it is so big, it doesn't really get absorbed into the blood when injected, it just stays in place and the protease activity inactivates the neurotransmissions of what ever nerves happen to be at the injection site. When ingested, of course, it is absorbed through the gut wall and inactivates any nerves it comes in contact with and you know the rest. I could go on and on, (he did, at some length) but you get the picture. A most interesting conversation!