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Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports DDPS
Federal Office for Civil Protection FOCP
Federal Office for Civil Protection, SPIEZ LABORATORY


What is toxinology?

Toxinology is an interdisciplinary and specialist area of the science of toxicology, which deals specifically with naturally occurring toxins, their composition and their modes of action. Unlike poisons which can also be produced synthetically, toxins (low molecular chemical compounds and complex biomolecules alike) can only be produced by living organisms, such as animals, fungi, plants and bacteria.

There is much more to the field of toxinology than the chemistry and modes of action of a toxin. Toxinology also involves the study of the biology of venom- and toxin-producing organisms, the structure and sometimes the function of a venom apparatus, as well as the use and ecological role of these compounds.

Nowadays, toxins are increasingly used as research tools and as treatments for acute and chronic diseases like cancer, epilepsy, thrombosis, as well as in analgesic and anti-hypertensive medication.

Toxinology in the SPIEZ LABORATORY

All work with toxins in the Biology Division of the SPIEZ LABORATORY is carried out by the Toxinology Group.

The Toxinology Group works primarily on projects that deal with substances which feature in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), in particular the protein-based plant toxin ricin and the low molecular neurotoxin saxitoxin (STX) which appear alongside classic chemical warfare agents in Schedule 1 of the CWC.

According to a list compiled by NATO, there are over 200 different toxins. At present, we work exclusively with ricin and saxitoxin, botulinum neurotoxin and staphylococcus enterotoxin B, as these are considered among the twelve most dangerous biological warfare agents, or "Dirty Dozen", as they are also commonly known.

The Toxinology Group is involved in an ever greater number of non-military projects, particularly civil protection projects. A large number of toxins cause serious food poisoning and in worst-case scenarios could even be used in terrorist attacks on the civilian population. When food poisoning incidents are reported, the Toxinology Group carries out random tests on food samples for the presence of toxins. In doing so, the group helps medical professionals and public authorities develop a more effective response to such outbreaks.

Other fields of activity:

Marc Avondet

- Werner Arnold
- Lena Skoko