What Wormwood Can Do

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Twenty-fourth in a series - W is for Wormwood

Wormwood is an interesting word in the Bible as well as in biotech.

In the Bible, depending on the version, it is mentioned one to ten times. The NIV uses it only once (Rev 8:11), and the NASB ten, the most times (Deut 29:18, Pro 5:4, Jer 9:15, Jer 23:15, Lam 3:15, Lam 3:19, Amos 5:7, Amos 6:12, Rev 8:11 (2x)).

Reviewing these passages, we glean that wormwood was known as early as 1400 BC when Moses warned the Israelites to be faithful to God’s laws— with thankfulness — they were not to emulate their fathers who rebelled in the wilderness with bitterness against the Lord and his servant Moses. But no doubt wormwood was known from the earliest days of man.

In Proverbs wormwood describes the end result for a man who goes astray into the arms of a prostitute.

Jeremiah prophesies that for their sins, God will give his people wormwood and gall, that is, not only the plant that is bitter but also one that is both nauseous and noxious (Matthew Henry). In Lamentations, Jeremiah feels the deepest sorrow in his soul as he surveys the destruction of Jerusalem: He has filled me with bitterness, he has made me drunken with wormwood …

Amos likens the justice system in Israel to wormwood because it had removed righteousness from the earth, and righteousness had turned to wormwood.

Finally, John in Revelation foresees a burning star called Wormwood that falls from heaven on a third part of the rivers and the fountains of waters, causing death for people who drank from them because the waters became wormwood. This occurs after the seventh and final seal of the scroll is broken.

It is thought that should a comet strike the earth, its cyanogen gas would mix with water to form hydrogen cyanide that would cause death at concentrations over 5 parts/million (ref)

But note, all the biblical references to wormwood do not disparage the plant itself; they only reinforce that it tastes bitter and causes water to taste bitter.

Over time it was discovered to heal certain illnesses:

…Most foods had to be salted or smoked in order to preserve them through the winter months. In the world that people lived in without modern anti-bacterial chemicals and without modern food preservation and preparation technology, contracting intestinal worms and other parasites along the digestive tract was an every day problem for the majority of the population. Historically, the most popular and effective means of ridding one's body of such parasites was the use of WORMWOOD, and as anyone can plainly see, the name given to the plant group Artemisia in the English language is based upon the use of the plants: wormwood: the wood that cures of worms. Granted today we do not consider a shrub to be "wood", but we are looking at the historical origins of the name. (ref)

The WebMD site lists other uses of wormwood in medicines to address loss of appetite, upset stomach, gall bladder disease, intestinal spasms; for fever, liver disease, depression, muscle pain, memory loss and worm infections; to increase sexual desire; as a tonic; and to stimulate sweating; for Crohn's disease and a kidney disorder called IgA nephropathy. Also, wormwood oil is used for digestive disorders, to increase sexual desire, and to stimulate the imagination; or when applied to the skin for osteoarthritis (OA), healing wounds and insect bites, and reducing pain.

The property of thujone in wormwood excites the central nervous system (or could cause seizures), and the use of wormwood in some alcoholic beverages engenders a psycho-active ingredient like coffee or tea do, so that people experience a mental or emotional boost. Absinthe, an emerald green alcoholic drink made of wormwood, fennel and anise (banned in the US), was touted by artists and writers like vanGogh and Hemingway. (ref)

And now we arrive at the late 20th and current 21st century. This article describes the use of wormwood in a drug to wipe out malaria.

Wormwood has also been bio-engineered by professor Henry Lai, PhD, University of Washington, as a concentrate that is

… over a thousand times more effective than chemo at targeting cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. The compound appears to especially be effective in combating breast cancer… and is said to act as a “trojan horse,” creating a literal “time bomb” for cancer cells. The compound is founded on the fact that cancer cells are not as successful as healthy cells in disposing of free-floating iron molecules. This weakness causes the presence of iron in general to create a stressful environment for them. Lai and his team used naturally-occuring holotransferrin, which carries iron into cells, as a way to transfer high doses of artemisinin into breast and prostate cancer cells. (ref)

This article points out that cancer drug designers are faced with the unique challenge— that cancer cells develop from our own normal cells. This means that most ways to poison cancer cells also kill healthy cells. Most available chemotherapies are very toxic, destroying one normal cell for every five to 10 cancer cells killed.

But the wormwood compound specifically targets the cancer cells. A recent study found that sweet wormwood can kill up to 12,000 cancer cells for every one healthy cell it may affect.

This is how God works, too. Through bitter trials, He targets the disease in our hearts that must be destroyed if we are to live joyous, free and healthy lives. He will not destroy a deeper or wider area than is necessary.

A bitter flavor for health

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Eighteenth in a series - Q is for Quinine

Quinine holds a special place in science history as the first chemical compound ever used successfully against infectious disease. During the American Civil War, its importance in treating malaria led to the first large-scale drug manufacturing operations and the first federal drug-testing program.

Quinine is derived from the bark of the Cinchona tree, an evergreen native to the Andes tropical forests, by isolating it from the bark through a process that also crystalizes its alkaloids— which are naturally occurring organic compounds with a nitrogen base. Quinine has healed the sick from kings to the poorest infant, and enabled armies over the centuries to maintain troop vigor and achieve military conquests.

In use since the 1600s, many chemists starting in the 18th century studied quinine to understand its properties, and worked to determine how it might be reinvented in a laboratory for mass production as a pharmaceutical. Though they figured out its molecular structure, and ultimately, in the 1940s, how to synthesize it from coal tar, the vast research led to better chemical discoveries for malaria treatment, though quinine still is used.

Today, biotechnology plays a large role in synthesizing and producing alkaloids for commercial use on an industrial scale. The discoveries of biotech and molecular biology make it convenient to transfer and propagate genes in plant cells, among other processes, to commercially produce alkaloid related drugs.

An aside: This webpage explains how to make a transgenic plant.

In current clinical trials, quinine is being studied “To investigate the effect of oral sham feeding and intragastric delivery of a bitter tastant on food intake.” In other words, this is research to determine whether quinine could assist obese people to eat less. It is also under study to discover how it interacts or reacts with other compounds and medicines for more effective treatments for a range of illnesses.

Despite the wonderful progress in medicinals, in 2016, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 91 countries, an increase of 5 million cases over 2015, and malaria deaths reached 445,000 in 2016, a similar number (446,000) to 2015. In 2016, nearly half the world’s population was at risk of malaria, and the latest World Malaria Report (Nov 2017) stated there were 216 million cases in 2016, up from 211 million in 2015.

There is no vaccine against malaria, though some progress in vaccines has been reported.

The story of Elisha and the pottage made for the prophets’ families comes to mind. There was a famine in the area so the stew was made with whatever was found in the field including wild gourds. Upon eating it, the prophets’ sons cried out, “There is death in the pot!” (2Ki 4:40) So Elisha cast some meal or flour into the pot, and remedied the poisoned stew.

I am not likening quinine to the meal that was cast into the stew. Then as now, the flour is symbolic of the bread of life, Christ, who must assist to bring health back, and with His help, biotechnology can find new ways to heal. It is true, though, that Christ is a bitter flavor to many.

Angel fish
Public Domain, Link

...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1


A SistersSite eBook

Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on Amazon.com. It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. It is also available here in PDF format. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

Did you know that dead organ donors are often anesthetized before their organs are removed? Do you know the current definition of death? The conscience cannot function without facts.

As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

How should a Christian think about euthanasia by starvation when doctors and the state attorney general all agree it is time to withhold feeding from a brain injured patient? Some things are family matters, but someday it may be our family.

Here is a small book to help you think about whether you want to sign your driver's license, donate a kidney, cremate your loved one, and many other practical questions that may arise in the course of your healthcare decisions or watch over others.

It offers a special focus on the doctrine of the Resurrection that is related to such decisions. Sunday School classes and Bible Study groups could use this book to facilitate discussion about the issues covered.