Text Box: Clostridium perfringens is also the active agent in gas gangrene and a major killer of alpacas.  "The organism is so promiscuous in terms of its hosts that it's found wherever there are domestic animals," says Glenn Songer, a veterinary scientist in the College of Agriculture at the University of Arizona.  "It makes a lot of toxins, and it's almost always lethal."  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's J.S. Novak "Clostridium perfringens is a primary agent in food borne illness, resulting from inadequate heating or refrigeration of prepared foods.  It is capable of surviving in anaerobic environments and temperatures as high as 100C for more than 1 hr because of an ability to form highly resistant spores.  Illness occurs following the ingestion of at least 6-7 log10 viable cells/g of food.  The contamination probability is high as 3-4 log10 cfu/g is the level normally found in human feces."   (cfu = Colony Forming Units)

 C. perfringens may be an element of biological warfare.  Reporting in August, 1991,  the CIA commented on bomb damage to Iraqi  biological warfare facilities.  They listed sites with  undamaged facilities.  "On the list was Al Hakam, which Iraq said was warehouse.  The report said the facility appeared to have made botulinum, anthrax, and Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that causes gangrene and attacks the body's internal organs."

 Had I known the foregoing  before contacting  Susan Ray Brown,  my message might have been a warning to be careful rather than a summary of old experiments.  Susan was quite interested in my experience and I began repeating experiments with additional grain variations as ingredients in starters.  A thermostat was installed to control heat box temperature.  Oat bran, steel cut oats, wheat bran, wheat germ, wheat gluten, wheat flakes, spelt flakes, triticale, white and yellow organic corn meal, processed corn meal, kamut flour, buckwheat flour, Robin Hood and King Arthur brands of white and whole wheat bread flour all spent fermentation time as starter components in the heat box.  White and whole wheat flour alone (no initiator such as corn meal, oat bran, etc. in the mix) ferment quite nicely to make good bread.  Though it has not yet been carried through to bread, a smelly, bubbling starter will develop from crumbled Post brand Shredded Wheat biscuits.

 If C. perfringens inhabits such a range of vegetable matter, it was reasonable to assume that tree bark might also be a carrier.  White oak (Quercus alba) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) barks are excellent initiators for salt-rising bread starters.  Slivers of bark (approximately 1/16-inch thick) were used.  The foam or froth developed from the barks is distinctly different from that arising on grains; interestingly, bubbles form first on the fragment exterior surfaces.  Fragments floating with the interior surface uppermost had initial bubbles only on the edges.  And finally, if C.perfringens is associated with animals, it might well be on cheese.  Common cheddar cheese and blue cheese initiate distinctive starters.

 The many starters were prepared in one-quart, large-mouth Mason jars which were flushed with boiling water before each use and capped to exclude itinerant yeasts and molds, etc.  One-half or one cup of wheat flour, 8 or 12 ounces of hot tap-water, 1/4  or 1/2 Campden tablet, and varying amounts of baking soda are basic in each starter.  (Hot water is used to speed action.  Cold tap water can be used; it simply delays action onset.)  Typically, two tablespoons of the initiator (cornmeal, oat bran, etc.) was used.  At least three instances of each variation was prepared to minimize "one-off" confusions.  Despite ostensible uniformity among a trio, differences in development time, character of foam, odor, etc. are often observed.