Bootleg Botox could lead to bioweapon proliferation

A lab that manufactures raw botulinum toxin for use in off-brand, black market Botox has investigators worried that it could turn from medical uses to a potent source for bioweapons.

The lab, which has not been found, is said by U.S. officials and security experts to exist with several dozen other such facilities. The botulinum toxin these facilities manufacture is a key ingredient in making the bootleg Botox but it is also one of the world's deadliest toxins. One speck of the toxin no larger than a grain of sand is able to kill a 150 pound adult.

Al-Qaeda is known to have sought this toxin and, with the rise of a global black market for fake Botox, terrorism experts are worried that it could become a product that is easy to procure.

"It is the only profit-making venture for terrorists that can also potentially yield a weapon of mass destruction," Kenneth Coleman, a physician and biodefense expert, told The Washington Post.

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies sponsored a project by Coleman and researcher Raymond Zilinskas last year to test if the counterfeit Botox network could be used to create a bioterrorism attack.

The project revealed that a biologist holding a master's degree and $2,000 worth of equipment would easily be able manufacture one gram of the pure toxin - enough to kill thousands of people.

The toxin, which would have been hard to obtain in the recent past, is now available online without a prescription or identification beyond a shipping address.