toxin


toxin
/tok"sin/, n.
any poison produced by an organism, characterized by antigenicity in certain animals and high molecular weight, and including the bacterial toxins that are the causative agents of tetanus, diphtheria, etc., and such plant and animal toxins as ricin and snake venom. Cf. antitoxin, endotoxin, exotoxin, phytotoxin, venom.
[1885-90; TOX(IC) + -IN2]
Syn. See poison.

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Any substance poisonous to an organism; often restricted to poisons produced by living organisms.

In addition to those from such microorganisms as bacteria (see bacterial diseases), dinoflagellates, and algae, there are toxins in fungi (mycotoxins; see aflatoxin; mushroom poisoning), higher plants (phytotoxins), and animals (zootoxins, or venoms). The plants include nightshade (see nightshade family), poison hemlock, foxglove, mistletoe, and poison ivy. Many plant toxins (e.g., pyrethrins, nicotine, rotenone) apparently protect their producers against certain animals (especially insects) or fungi. Similar defensive secretions in animals may be widely distributed or concentrated in certain tissues, often with some sort of delivery system (e.g., spines, fangs). Animals such as spiders and snakes use venoms to catch prey and often for defense. Many normally edible fishes and shellfishes become poisonous after feeding on toxic plants or algae. See also antidote; food poisoning.

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      any substance poisonous to an organism. The term is sometimes restricted to poisons spontaneously produced by living organisms (biotoxins). Besides the poisons produced by such microorganisms as bacteria, dinoflagellates, and algae, there are toxins from fungi (mycotoxins), higher plants (phytotoxins), and animals (zootoxins). The name phytotoxin may also refer to a substance, regardless of origin, poisonous to plants.

      Some biotoxins appear to be of little use to the organisms producing them but may play unknown roles in the organisms' metabolism, or they may be waste products. Many others, however, confer obvious advantages on their producers, such as depressing the growth of competitors or preventing predation. Many of the thousands of known phytotoxins are known to protect their producers against certain animals, especially insects. Similar defensive secretions are numerous among animals and may be either widely distributed among the tissues or concentrated in certain tissues, in which case there is often some sort of delivery system, such as spines or fangs.

      Numerous animals (e.g., spiders and some snakes) have evolved poisons as aids in securing prey and often use the same poison for defense.

      Many normally edible fishes and shellfishes become poisonous after feeding on toxic plants or algae. When a toxic fish or shellfish is eaten, the poison attacks the consumer's nervous system and causes a sometimes fatal condition called ciguatera. See poison.

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Universalium. 2010.

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