Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Regenesis - Feeding The World Without Devouring The Planet

After the Civil War battle at Shiloh, Tennessee, in 1862, thousands of injured soldiers were left lying in the mud, in some cases for two days and two nights, as the number of casualties on both sides was so great that it overwhelmed their armies' capacity to retrieve and treat them. Many died from their injuries and the consequent infections. 

But at night, some of the injured men noticed a strange blue glow emanating from their wounds. Their ghostly penumbra could be seen from a distance. Field surgeons observed that the soldiers who luminesced healed more quickly and had a higher survival rate than those who didn't. They called it the Angel's Glow.

An explanation for the Angel's Glow was proposed 139 years later, when a seventeen-year-old high-school student, William Martin, acting on a hunch, persuaded his friend Jonathan Curtis to help him investigate. Their paper, which won a national science prize, argued that the soldiers appear to have been attacked by insect-eating nematodes in the soil contaminating their wounds. The nematodes regurgitated their bacteria, and the antibiotics these microbes produce are likely to have destroyed the other pathogens infecting the wounds.

Because the luminous bacteria have evolved to infect insects, whose body temperature is lower than that of humans, the students speculated that only hypothermic soldiers were inoculated. When they were brought in for treatment, and warmed up, the bacteria that had saved them died, preventing complications.

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