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Monday, August 12, 2013

Science Update on Glowing Wounds

From: ScienceNetLinks.com


Many legends of our nation's history are just that, legends, with no basis in established fact. But at least one Civil War legend may have just been upgraded in authenticity, thanks to an idea from a high-school student. This Science Update reveals how tales that may sound like supernatural fiction could actually be science fact.

TRANSCRIPT
A healing light on the battlefield. I'm Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Seventeen year old Bill Martin was visiting Shiloh, a Civil War battlefield, and heard tales of soldiers whose wounds glowed with an eerie light. Bill's mom happens to be Phyllis Martin, a microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland. She studies a soil bacterium called P. Luminescens that glows pale blue.

Martin:
So you know, he comes home and, 'Mom, you're working with a glowing bacteria. Could that have caused the glowing wounds?' And so, being a scientist, of course I said, "Well, you can do an experiment to find out."

So Bill and his friend, John Curtis, did historical research and found that the bacterium could indeed have lived in the conditions at Shiloh. But their lab experiments showed the bacterium doesn't live at body temperature.

Martin:
OK, well, this is a problem. But then they found that soldiers that would have been wounded would have had hypothermia, and therefore, the body temperature would be lower. And sure enough that was the key to the whole thing.

The bacterium appears to make an antibiotic that would have helped the soldiers' wounds to heal. Martin says the students are now working on identifying the compound.

For the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I'm Bob Hirshon.

MAKING SENSE OF THE RESEARCH
Many legends of our nation's history are just that,legends, with no basis in established fact. But at least one Civil War legend may have just been upgraded in authenticity, thanks to an idea from a high-school student. This Science Update reveals how tales that may sound like supernatural fiction could actually be science fact.

Bill Martin and his family had heard some folklore about Civil War soldiers with glow-in-the-dark wounds who appeared to have better survival rates than soldiers with nonglowing wounds. Bill wondered if the subject of his mother's research—Photorhabdus luminescens, a bacteria that glows—could have caused the glowing wounds. He and his friend, Jonathan Curtis, performed research and experiments to find out if Photorhabdus luminescens was present at Shiloh, a particular battlefield where the glowing wounds were reported.

Bill and Jonathan not only discovered that the Photorhabdus luminescens bacteria was probably present at the Battle of Shiloh, but also found that it could indeed have grown on the bodies of the wounded soldiers, since their body temperatures were lowered by hypothermia (Photorhabdus luminescens does not grow at normal human body temperature).

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