Thursday, April 19, 2012

Shiloh's Glowing Soldiers Part 2

Continuing the saga of Angel's Fire . . .

Soldiers from the Civil War and World War I more often died from infections of soil-and-shrapnel wounds than from the wounds themselves. At that time, medicine did not recognize the existence of germs, and there were no antibiotics as such.

After the battle of Shiloh, soil-dwelling nematodes entered the open wounds of men lying on the battlefield. In order to protect the host of the nematodes (the soldier, in this case), the nematodes barf up a stew of micro-organisms called Photorhadus luminescens. These little glow-guys eat other bacteria, clearing the way for the nematode. YUM!!

How did we find out about these little good boys? Another little good boy by the name of Bill Martin, who was 17 in 2001, went on a summer trip to Shiloh with his family. He heard the story about "Angel's Fire," and asked his mom what she thought.

No average mom here! Ms. Martin is a microbiologist for the USDA, & she was studying photo-luminescent bacteria at the time. She immediately envisioned a project, and as soon as the Martins got home from vacation, Bill & his best bud Jon Curtis started researching.

The biggest question was how P.luminescens stayed alive, since they die at the average human body temperature. Turns out the night temps in the early Shiloh spring were low enough to give the soldiers hypothermia, which kept the bacteria alive.

And for all this work? The guys won first place in the 2001 Intel International Science & Engineering Fair.

I say Huzzah! and a long, loud TIGER!!

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