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July 15, 2014 10:40 am

Did the Bible Predict a New Form of Antibiotics?

avatar by Josephine Bacon

Jordan River. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In the bible, Naaman, commander of the armies of Aram (the Syrians were just as belligerent in those days!) was cured of what the Bible refers to as “leprosy” (though probably just a skin disease), after being told to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. Sound fanciful? Yes, but there may be something to it.

In the desperate search for alternatives to currently known antibiotics, a potential new cure for certain bacterial infections has been found – and it lives in rivers.

This wonder cure is an amoeba, a one-celled organism that merges with others of the same species when it runs out of food to form a myxomycete or slime-mold. Its scientific name is Dictyostelium discoideum. The organism lives in rivers as an amœba, a one-celled organism, but the cells clump together on land in wet places such as damp forest soils.

What makes this one-celled living thing different from antibiotics derived from fungi (molds) is that it does not kill the bacteria or stop them from reproducing as fungi do – it eats them! The organism’s diet consists of certain bacteria that are harmful to humans and animals.

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One of the bacteria to which D. discoideum appears to be particularly partial is Seratia marcescens, a strain that has been found to be responsible for a range of infections often contracted in hospitals. The amoeba does not consume all types of bacteria and does not distinguish between gram positive and gram negative species, but it has a fondness for several micro-organisms that are seriously dangerous to humans. It is also easily cultivatable in the laboratory.

Myxomycetes were once considered to be fungi but they have one distinctive property that has caused scientists to put them in a separate classification: they can move! Scientists still do not classify slime-molds as animals (though the rabbis may have a problem in deciding whether they are animal or vegetable for the benefit of patients being treated with drugs derived from them!) but put them in a separate category that is midway between plants and animals. In every other way, the slime-molds resemble bacteria, but, unlike bacteria, their cells contain a nucleus. They also move very slowly.

Because this particular slime-mold has wide-ranging tastes, feeding on many different bacteria, the bacteria will be slow to develop resistance to it, at least in the near future, so it holds out hope for treating a wide range of infections, from skin diseases to the bacteria that causes typhoid fever.

D. discoideum was identified and described as long ago as 1935, but its curative properties have only recently been discovered. They could point the way to using other slime-molds for medicinal purposes.

So I guess the Bible wasn’t so crazy after all.

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