The rare, but deadly botulinum toxin is millions of times more poisonous than cyanide.  As dangerous as it is, the test for detecting botulinum toxin–an assay requiring the participation of laboratory mice, is neither quick nor easy. It takes from four to eight days, is not portable, nor very affordable.

A new, improved test for detecting what’s known as “serotype A” of the toxin has now been developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) biologist Larry H. Stanker and colleagues at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif.

The new test relies on laboratory built molecules known as monoclonal antibodies, which can bind to the toxin. Assisting the work are biologist Luisa W. Cheng and research associate Miles C. Scotcher.

The botulinum toxin that causes botulism occurs in seven different serotypes–A through G. A and B are culprits in most of the foodborne botulism cases in this country, according to Stanker.  The research team now expects to complete assays for detecting serotypes B and E sometime this year.

Safeguard Biosystems, Inc., of San Diego, CA., is packaging two of the serotype A antibodies into a dipstick-style test kit that looks and operates much like a home pregnancy test. The botulinum kit is intended for testing liquids, such as beverages, or clinical specimens, such as blood or urine.

That should be much quicker than waiting around for those lab mice.

ARS, a unit of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), has much more about this in its May/June magazine here.