Monday, February 5, 2018

Angel's Glow

How two 17-year-olds discovered an odd luminescence that saved wounded Civil War soldiers.
Shiloh National Military Park, Hardin County, Tennessee. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Shiloh National Military Park, Hardin County, Tennessee
A quick review of Civil War deaths, because the numbers are pretty remarkable. 750,000 American soldiers died in the Civil War . . . 
Tomb Of Unknown Soldier. at Arlington National Cemetery. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Tomb Of Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery
more than American soldiers who were killed during all other wars combined. 
The Revolutionary War (25,000) 
World War I (115,000) 
World War II (405,000)
The Korean War (35,000) 
The Vietnam War (60,000) 
and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (7,000)  
Civil War soldiers, battle weary and standing in formation. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Battle-Weary Civil War Soldiers
Not one of the deadliest wars ever . . .
Statue in the center of Stalingrad after Nazi air strikes, 1942
Statue in the center of Stalingrad after Nazi air strikes, 1942
1.9 million Germans, Soviet soldiers, and civilians were killed in six months during the Battle of Stalingrad . . . 
Civil War nurse in a field hospital caring for two wounded soldiers. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Civil War nurse in a field hospital caring for two wounded soldiers. 
but it was one of the first industrialized wars where medical care lagged behind improved ways of injuring and killing people. 
Row of stacked rifle muskets. Petersburg, Virginia in late 1864. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
A row of stacked rifle muskets. Petersburg, Virginia, 1864 
Two musket "improvements" caused a substantial increase in human damage. 
Smoothbore musket barrels were replaced with rifled barrels making shots more accurate at longer distances.
1844, James H. Burton  design to increase the lethality the of Minié bullet. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
1844, James H. Burton's design to increase the lethality the of Minié bullet.
A soft lead bullet called a miniĆ© ball, decreased loading time and caused extensive damage when it mushroomed on impact.     
Deposits of Spongy Callus after a Gunshot Fracture of the Left Femur, circa 1870. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Deposits of Spongy Callus after a Gunshot Fracture of the Left Femur
Causes of Death during the American Civil War: 
(Substantially more soldiers died from medical causes than were killed during battle.) 
1. Killed in action: 
54,000 Confederate / 67,000 Union 
2. Dysentery: 
50,000 Confederate / 45,000 Union 
3. Wounds: 
40,000 Confederate / 43,700 Union 
4. Typhoid: 
30,000 Confederate / 34,800 Union 
5. Prison: 
26,100 Confederate / 31,200 Union 
6. Pneumonia: 
17,000 Confederate / 20,000 Union 
7. Malaria: 
20,000 Confederate / 10,000 Union 
8. Smallpox: 
8,000 Confederate / 7,000 Union 
9. Tuberculosis: 
7,000 Confederate / 7,000 Union 
10. Measles: 
6,000 Confederate / 5,2000 Union
Union officers before the Battle of Shiloh Hardin County, Tennessee. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Union officers before the Battle of Shiloh Hardin County, Tennessee.
During the Battle of Shiloh, in April 1862, 3,000 soldiers were killed and more than 16,000 soldiers were wounded. Medics were unable to reach the battlefield and the injured waited two days in the Tennessee rain and mud.
Illustration of the Battle of Shiloh. April 6, 1862. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Illustration of the Battle of Shiloh. April 6, 1862
Some of the soldiers began to emit a blue luminescence from their wounds. Those soldiers had an improved survival rate and their wounds healed more quickly.

Wisconsin State Monument at the Shiloh National Military Park. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Wisconsin State Monument at the Shiloh National Military Park
The phenomenon was called Angel’s Glow.
1893 Site Plan of Shiloh National Cemetery. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
1893 Site Plan of Shiloh National Cemetery
One hundred and forty years later, a seventeen-year-old went on a family trip to visit the battlefield. 
After learning about the odd injuries, Bill Martin and his friend Jon Curtis decided to search for a cause. 
Bill's mother, a microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service, suggested the boys research luminescent bacteria.  
Bioluminescent bacteria growing in a petri dish. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Bioluminescent bacteria growing in a petri dish
Photorhabdus Luminescens is a bacteria that has a symbiotic relationship with tiny threadworms called nematodes. Luminescent bacteria inhabit the worms' gastrointestinal tract.
Example of soil dwelling nematode. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Example of soil dwelling nematode
 The nematodes burrow into insect larva and regurgitate the luminescent bacteria which infects the larva's bloodstream. A toxic chemical mix is released that kills the host insect and any other microorganisms making it a naturally occurring antibiotic years before Fleming and penicillin. 
The bacterial gene that creates the toxins is called mcf or the "makes caterpillars floppy" gene. 
Bioluminescent nematodes. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Example of bioluminescent nematodes
 Once the larva is consumed by the nematodes, the nematodes re-ingested the bacteria. The worms burst out of the larva husk and search for other hosts. 
The reason for bioluminescence isn't understood but it may attract other insects making more hosts available.
Bloody pond at Shiloh National Military Park. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Bloody Pond at Shiloh National Military Park
The teenagers searched historical records and were able to determine that the weather and soil conditions were favorable for nematodes but human body temperature will typically kill the parasites. 
Bill and Jon were able to demonstrate that unusually cold weather, particularly at night, would have caused hypothermia in some soldiers making them susceptible to nematodes. 

Civil War Field Hospital North Carolina. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Civil War Field Hospital North Carolina
In this case, a soldier covered in mud, with an abnormally low body temperature, a threadworm infestation, and glowing bacteria was better off than other wounded.

Curtis and Martin presented the solution to Angel's Glow at the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Medical team at work during the Battle of Normandy. WWII combat medic and field medicine. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com
Medical team at work during the Battle of Normandy, WWII
It wasn't until WWII that UK and US biochemists scrambled to secretly produce penicillin in usable quantities. The governments had hoped to provide enough penicillin to treat the anticipated injuries from the upcoming D-Day invasion. 
A penicillin strand found on a rotten melon and the creation of deep vat fermentation by Pfizer created enough penicillin to send to the troops four months before the invasion.
Schenley Laboratories Ad August 1944 Thanks to penicillin, he will come home. Angel's Glow. marchmatron.com

#War #Army #History #Medicine


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