Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Friday | October 03, 2003

Bacteria in Iraq

Kay's "we didn't find shit in Iraq" report notes that it found "live strains of the deadly botulinum bacteria" in Iraq. This will undoubtedly be used by the administration and its apologists as evidence of Saddam's deadly aspirations (or something like that).

RR, a PhD candidate in pathology and laboratory medicine, wrote in to explain what that meant (or actually, what it didn't mean:

Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria which produces botulinum toxin, is a normal soil bacterium. You've probably ingested large quantities of it yourself, if you've ever eaten vegetables straight out of a garden without washing them thoroughly, or if you've ever eaten unfiltered honey. Live C. botulinum is used in undergraduate microbiology labs as a teaching tool...the live bacteria are not dangerous, are ubiquitous in nature, and are ubiquitous in microbiology labs around the globe--even those not hell-bent on the destruction of American liberty & whatnot.

If Kay said that large quantities of purified botulinum toxin had been found, that would be significant. It's difficult to purify the toxin from the bacteria (which produce the toxin in exceedinly small amounts), and there's no good reason to have lots of it. (Although it would not mean much if only small amounts of purified botulinum toxin were found anywhere--small amounts of the toxin are injected by doctors into patients for the treatment of chronic pain and wrinkles--that's what BoTox is.)

In other words, Kay was reaching for anything that might help the administration make its case, and this is the best he could do.

Update: There's more to RR's email that I omitted since I couldn't find any references to Bush's speech. Now that Bush's words are being circulated, I offer the rest:

Anyhoo, notice the parsing of words--Bush emphasizes "live strains" and "bacteria", not just because "live strains" sounds scary, but because it is, I am sure, technically true. But that claim is also probably technically true of any American backyard, and thus is completely meaningless.

Perhaps Bush misspoke, and really meant "large quantities of botulinum toxin." If that's what Kay & Co. found, and that's what it says in the report, that means something. But what Bush actually said is meaningless.

Posted October 03, 2003 09:19 AM | Comments (116)


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