I was struck this week with two remarkable breakthroughs in the use of bacteria. While once the scourge of parents and doctors, the simple bacteria is being enlisted as an ally in new scientific work. Researchers in New York have discovered a way to use radioactive bacteria to kill cancer, using bacteria as a uniquely effective vehicle to find and attack cancer cells. In the meantime, a team from the University of Exeter has discovered a way to use bacteria to make bio-diesel.
The bacteria fuel is reportedly carbon neutral biofuel and could eventually be made in sufficient commercial volume to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions. Shell is funding the research using special strains of E. coli bacteria — the culprit in so many health emergencies in the food supply.
Working with a mouse model of pancreatic cancer, researchers found that bacteria can deliver deadly radiation to tumors. This could be truly revolutionary since fewer than one in 25 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are alive five years later. The research findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and built on the work of Ekaterina Dadachova of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York who thought of combining two ways to fight cancer. This research uses the bacteria Listeria, which also has killed many as a foodborne bacteria.
It will take time but we can change. Heck, last season I found myself rooting for the Packers in a game against the Vikings to allow the Bears into the playoffs. If I can do that, I can embrace bacteria as a friend.