Members of the genus Clostridium are anaerobic, motile, Gram-positive, spore-forming rod present in nature especially in the soil. Microscopically, they have a long drumstick like appearance with a bulge situated at their terminal ends. Gram-staining is one of the easiest methods employed to identify them as the cell simply incorporates the dye while the spore does not take up the stain.
Clostridium shows ideal growth when they are grown on blood agar at human body temperatures. Under unfavorable conditions for growth, however, the bacterium produces spores to tolerate the stressed environment where in, the active bacteria would not have survived. Clostridial species in their active forms secrete exotoxins responsible for specific and serious conditions such as tetanus, botulism and gas gangrene. The four clinically important species of Clostridium are C. botulinum, C. tetani, C. perfringens and C. difficile.
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Clostridium tetani is the bacterium which causes tetanus (lockjaw) in human beings. The spores of C. tetani can be acquired from all kinds of skin trauma and they outgrow in deep, necrotic wounds. In the anaerobic environment, the spores germinate and lead to the formation of active C. tetani cells. If these cells are present at the tissue level, then they release an exotoxin named tetanospasmin which affects the nervous system specifically by transmission via the neurons, eventually to the brain. One of the major effects of the toxin involves constant contraction of the skeletal muscles which occurs as a result of blockage of inhibitory interneurons which controls the contraction of muscles. Prolonged contraction of the muscles eventually leads to respiratory failure which has a high mortality rate if not treated early. One of the best ways to avert infections caused by C. tetani is to immunize oneself.
Clostridium botulinum is identified to generate one of the most powerful toxins till date and is the causative agent of the c food poisoning. Due to the fact that Clostridium spores are ubiquitous, they sometimes find their way into foods placed in anaerobic storages such as cans and bottles. Once the cans are completely sealed, the spores begin to germinate and the bacteria then secretes their toxin which has an effect on the peripheral nerve cells (McLauchlin et al, 2006; McLauchlin, Grant et al.,2006). Patients suffer from muscular flaccid paralysis apart from blurred vision. Immediate administration of an anti-toxin to the patient is necessary to raise the probability of survival. Infantile botulism is also caused in a very similar way but is far milder than its adult counterpart. The most frequent source for the spores which germinate in the infant’s intestinal tract is however honey.
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