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.