What are Biotoxins?

Biotoxins are substances which are both toxic and have a biological origin. They come in many forms and can be produced by nearly every type of living organism: there are mycotoxins (made by fungi), zootoxins (made by animals) and phytotoxins (made by plants). Whilst some appear to have no advantage for the organism making them (they might be a waste product, for example), most are produced to help in two main activities – predation and defence against predation by other species, and so have very important roles in the life cycle of the organism. As we can see, biotoxins are varied in both function/mechanism and form: they can be used for a variety of activities or even none at all and can be anything from large complex molecules right down to fairly simple proteins. They can also be administered in lots of ways, including orally ingesting them, being injected as venom or being released into the environment via a type of pore.

Many biotoxins can be further classified into what kind of effects they have on the body. Some of these groups include the following:

Biotoxins that are a threat to human health (and often animals too) are classified as biological hazards. These hazards are often labelled with the well know 'Biohazard' symbol, so that those who might handle the substance, or come into contact with it, will know that it poses a threat and that the correct precautions must be taken. This symbol was developed by the Dow Chemical Company in 1966 and was later adopted by the Centers for Disease Control, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institutes of Health in the USA after it was publicised in Science, before it spread around the world. There are four levels of biohazard (the Biosafety Levels), which can be seen most clearly by looking at the categorisation of the CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA):

What are biotoxins?
Biotoxins are toxic substances which have a biological origin.
What are mycotoxins?
Mycotoxins are toxins produced by fungi.
How do neurotoxins affect the body?
Neurotoxins target and affect the nervous system.
Who developed the 'Biohazard' symbol?
The biohazard symbol was developed by the Dow Chemical Company.