The Fine Art of Making Poison Ed Schantz and his apprentice, Eric Johnson, work in a very strange field of science. They grow and Harvest the worlds strongest poison. It is, in their words, six million times stronger than rattlesnake venom. The toxin is produced by a single-celled bacteria called Botulinum. The botilin poison produced by the bacteria causes a form of food poisoning called botulism.
Botilin shuts down nerve pulses from the brain making the victim paralyzed. The victims usually suffocate to death when their diaphragm becomes paralyzed. However, Ed and Eric do not use the toxin for morbid acts of terrorism; they use it to heal people with muscular disorders. Electric impulses from the brain cause muscles to contract. The toxin attaches itself to the nerve endings and cuts the flow of neurotransmitters, a nerve signal transmitting chemicals.
Some disorders, called dystonias, send too many and or random impulses. Ed has learned that by inserting the toxin in very small amounts into the nerves these extra impulses will be cut off. The nerve endings will be weakened for a few months until new nerve endings can grow around the toxins. In Schantzs early years of toxin making, he met up with a doctor named Alan Scott. Scott contacted Ed to see if he could use botilin to cure Strabismus ,or cross-eye, a disorder that acts like many dystonias.
After testing the process on monkeys, Ed was given an affirmation in 1978 by the FDA to proceed with the treatment on humans. Scott also learned to use the toxin as a cure for blepharospasm; or excessive and uncontrollable blinking, which previously had no cure. Though the years the toxins range of use expanded. Amazingly every dose of botilin ever given was taken from the 1979 harvest of the bacteria. The process to make the bacteria starts in their closet sized lab.
They can grow the bacteria in about three days. The bacteria is then dissolved in a fluid and sulfuric acid is added. The toxin becomes insoluble because of the acid and settles out. This process is repeated in varying methods until the toxin is almost pure. Finally, ammonium sulfate is added to make the toxin crystallize into glasslike needles that are pure botilin. Ed and Eric relate the process to an art. If you are just a little off in one of the steps, especially crystallization, then you will not get the result you want, pure crystals.
They also will not use any of the modern or automated techniques like columns or chemical reactors, since they do not produce a toxin that is as pure as their technique. Their technique could be improvised in a home kitchen but maintaining the high toxicity and desired properties of the toxin are what takes years of practice to master. The 1979 batch of botilin that is being used for medical treatment is expected to last for another five years , but researchers that need the toxin to experiment on are what keeps Ed and Eric in business. The toxin has been found to help in many diseases including: multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and stuttering. The toxin is being used in more and more cases than ever before, and the list is still growing.
Even the Food Research Institute is using the bacteria to build up an immunity to botulism.