Jul 242014
 

How the Story of Naaman Reveals a New Cure for Diseases

© Josephine Bacon, 2014

 

The Biblical story of Naaman, commander of the armies of Aram (the Syrians were just as belligerent in those days!) was cured of what the Bible[1] refers to as “leprosy” which was probably a skin disease such as psoriasis or sebhorreic dermatitis – by bathing seven times in the Jordan River at the behest of the prophet Elisha. Sound fanciful? Yes, but there may be something in it.

In the desperate search for alternatives to currently known antibiotics—one that world leaders, such as David Cameron, have urged drug companies to engage in as a priority—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, clumping together in wet places, whether in water or in damp forest soils. It lives on a diet of certain groups of bacteria many of which are harmful to humans and animals.

What makes this one-celled organism different to antibiotics derived from fungi (molds) is that it does not kill the bacteria or stop them reproducing as fungi do—it eats them! 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 that are often contracted in hospital. The amoeba does not “eat” all types of bacteria and does not distinguish between gram positive and gram negative species but it has a fondness for several bacteria that are seriously dangerous to humans. It is also easily cultivatable in the laboratory.

The slime-molds, the group to which Dictyostelium discoideum belongs, are a group of living things about which not nearly enough is yet known. They grow on any kind of rotting vegetation all over the world and although microscopic, when they clump together they are very much visible, especially as they are often brightly colored. One well-known species often encountered in American and European woodlands is Wolf’s Milk (Lycogala epidendrum) a scattering of pink blobs growing on rotten trunks throughout the Eastern and Western United States (though for some reason not in the center of the country).

Myxomycetes were once considered to be fungi but they have one distinctive property which has caused scientist to put them in a separate classification—they can move! The fruiting body, known as a plasmodium, slowly creeps over the medium on which it is growing! Scientists still do not classify slime-molds as animal (though the rabbis will have to decide whether they are animal for the benefit of patients being treated with drugs derived from them!) but put them in 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.

Because this particular slime-mold has catholic tastes (!) and feeds on a wide range of bacteria, the bacteria are unlikely to be able 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 bacteria causing typhoid fever.

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

 

Dictyostelium discoideum in slime-mould form

Dictyostelium discoideum in slime-mould form

 

[1]II Kings, chapter 5.

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