Wherein guest contributor Adam Bernstein tells us that, with all apologies to Denis Leary, there is in fact a cure for cancer. All we need to do is convince Deinococcus radiodurans to help us. Now what the hell is Deinococcus radiodurans?
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Lately it seems many people are wondering if I could really B. cereus. Get it? B. cereus! Ok, microbiology humour isn’t for everyone.
It all started with three paragraphs in a biology textbook that explained a process called bioremediation. The passage in question discussed the Exxon Valdez oil spill and how a spray was employed on some beaches as a “test” specifically to encourage the growth of Arthrobacter spp. bacteria to eat the oil. It went on to say that current research was investigating the use of bacteria to clean up toxic waste.
Then it occurred to me: Holy shit! Bacteria can eat oil and toxic waste — as in a source of nutrients used to supply energy! Like me chowing down on a hunk of steak! That is so cool!
I wanted to learn more. I immediately hit the net and discovered what has become my favourite bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans. This remarkable little guy can survive intense levels of gamma radiation. It is currently being researched for the purposes of bioremediation of nuclear waste. At first I thought it would be the coolest thing ever. Make nuclear power a completely clean energy source using bacteria to deal with the toxic waste. What could be better?
Well, there was something cooler. I learned about two things
1) What is cancer?
2) How does the D. radiodurens work?
Getting To Know A Killer
We need to start with the very basics of cancer. All cells have fundamental cycle. The cycle has three checkpoints. If the DNA is not right at any of these checkpoints the cell is supposed to undergo apoptosis (a sciency way of saying suicide). Cancer occurs when the cell somehow makes it through the checkpoints with hinky DNA. Once this happens the renegade cell will go through cell division of its own and because it transfers the DNA the way it is in the original cell we are left with a whole lot of cancer cells. The big problem in curing cancer is that both normal cells and cancer cells perform cell division the exact same way; you can’t just attack the method of cellular reproduction to eradicate cancer because you would be attacking the good cells too.
It is not exactly known how Deinococcus radiodurans is able to survive intense levels of radiation. There are currently two prevailing theories. The first is that there is an unknown set of genes that are exceptional at repairing broken DNA. The other is that there are complexes that protect the DNA repair portions of the cell during irradiation allowing for the DNA to be put back together.
In either case we are talking about DNA that has been, for all intents and purposes, broken being put back together properly. For those who may not have followed this entire train of thought through, if you can harness this and apply it to a human cancer cell … BOOM! No cancer.
The Devil Is In The Details
Now obviously this is currently the realm of science fiction. First we will have to determine exactly how D. radiodurans repairs itself. A vague hypothesis just will not do. Next we have to isolate the genes responsible for creating this property. Then we have to learn how to attack the cancer cell with these genes. Let’s just say there are a lot of things that have to happen.
Maybe my idea to cure cancer is a personal pipe dream. Maybe even if this is possible it is well past the scope of my lifetime. That doesn’t mean bacteria can’t be used for other purposes just as important. Bacteria are an incredibly versatile life form. They survive at almost every extreme known to man, it seems. The dynamic nature of this single-celled organism leads me to believe that many wonderful discoveries can be made to aid human existence with further research.
So, yes, I am completely serious.
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Note from the Editor: Adam Bernstein is a friend of eclectickle and once he completes his Bachelor’s Degree in Microbiology and inevitable Ph.D., I will be forced to call him Doctor Bernstein. Which will really annoy the piss out of me. Aside from that — and his adamant (see what I did there) refusal to join the social media omniverse — he’s a decent and dedicated man. Hopefully, he’ll be contributing more articles to eclectickle in the future, in between his studies and curing cancer.
And, no, there is no correlation between the shared initials. That’s fate, messing with me.