The work of MacFarlane and Knight which was published in the Biochemical Journal in 1941 changed the way in which bacterial disease was viewed. They found that the ability of Clostridium perfringens to cause disease was almost entirely attributable to the production of -toxin, which had enzymatic activity – it was a phospholipase C. This was the first time that a bacterial toxin was shown to have an enzymatic activity and founded many of the principles which were subsequently applied to the study of other bacterial toxins. This BJ Classics article considers the historical context of this work and how this work has allowed subsequent studies which have changed our understanding of disease caused by C. perfringens.

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