DARTMOUTH, Mass. – The war on terror could have an unlikely ally in the modest mollusk known as the quahog.
Federally funded researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth (search) who injected quahogs with the botulism toxin reached a startling conclusion — that the shellfish somehow neutralized the poisonous enzyme, which is considered a potential bioterror agent.
"Botulism activity was cut in half by the blood of the quahog (search)," Dr. Bal Ram Singh told The Standard Times of New Bedford. "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. That's where we are."
Singh, a chemist who has been searching for a botulism (search) antidote under a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, started with small but deadly amounts, then increased the injections until they were pumping the shellfish with enough to paralyze and kill the population of a town of 1,000 people.
But the botulism, a muscle relaxant, had little effect on the quahogs. The researchers noticed that the water the quahogs were in became cloudy, a sign that they were secreting some sort of mucous. When they were cracked open, the once milky-white quahogs displayed a distinct brown color.
Singh believes an ingredient in the quahog's blood neutralizes the toxin, but doesn't know how.
"We could inject a quahog with enough poison to kill 100,000 people, and it wouldn't die," he said. "Something in the quahog appears to destroy enough of the toxin in order to survive it. There will be more to this story."