Nematodes May Have Saved Soldiers

Published online: May 29, 2001
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Bacteria that can make insects such as the Colorado potato beetle sick may have been responsible for the exceptional healing of Civil War soldier's wounds that glowed in the dark.

The finding comes from an award-winning research project by two high school students at Bowie High School in Bowie, MD, who worked with Beltsville, MD, ARS scientists.

Bill Martin and Jonathan Curtis, seniors, placed first in team competition at the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Science Fair held in San Jose, CA, earlier this month.

ARS microbiologist Phyllis Martin and her son, Bill, who is a Civil War buff, had heard the folklore of Civil War soldiers with glow-in-the-dark wounds who appeared to have better survival rates than other soldiers had.

Martin had previously studied the bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens, as a potential biocontrol agent and knew this insect pathogen created a glowing effect. The students found that three Photorhabdus strains produced antibiotics that inhibited the growth of other bacteria that would have caused infections in open wounds.

Using the P. luminescens, Phyllis Martin is seeking to control Colorado potato beetle. TheHeterorhabdus genus of nematodes harbors the glowing bacteria that seem to control the beetle.