“Angle’s Glow”-Mystery of Blue Light on Wound

Glow on the dark on wounds might sound like something out of science fiction, but the mystery exposed after 140 years of Battle of Shiloh during Civil War of America.

The Battle of Shiloh which is also recognized as Battle of ‘Pittsburg Landing’ was a war of blood between Union forces of United States and Confederate army of Confederate states of America. This war took place from April 6 to April 7 in 1862 and resulted in Union victory. Many soldiers accepted death and total casualties reached at a number of 23,000. In the war, something very strange happened. Soldiers noticed in the dark that many of them had a glow on their wounds that expressed a greenish-blue color. The soldiers could not reach any significant decision about this but the doctors discovered that soldiers with the greenish blue glow on their wounds had a greater chance of survival and healing and also infections by microorganisms on wound was happened at a lower rate than those who had not any glow. As they could not discover the reason behind this occurrence they thought it was a blessing from God and so named this phenomenon ‘Angel’s Glow’. After 140 years in 2001, the mystery came to light. A 17 years old student Bill Martin became fascinated about the reason of Angle’s Glow after a tour to the Battle of Shiloh site. Bill and his friend Jon Curtis tried to figure out the reason behind the glow with the help of Bill’s mother Phyllis who was a microbiologist.

First of all, they identified many bioluminescent bacteria that glow in the dark and then tried to identify those bacteria that make greenish blue glow at dark.

After much investigation and considering the suitability of the site (site of Shiloh war) to facilitate the growing of bacteria at that time, they found a bacteria known as Photorhabdus luminescens, which lives inside nematodes. The handful of the site of Shiloh battle contained thousands of these worms. P. luminescens has symbiotic relationship with entomopathogenic nematode of the family Heterorhabditidae and lives in the gut of this nematode. When this nematode found suitable host such as larvae, the nematodes start vomiting and the bacteria comes outside and then these bacteria produces toxic chemicals that not only kills the host of nematode but also the surrounding infectious microorganisms that can enter into the wounds and causes infection.

But this luminescent bacteria Photorhabdus luminescens cannot survive at the normal human body temperature. But at the time of the Shiloh battle that was on April 6 to April 7, the weather was quite cold that caused a lowered body temperature of the soldiers. So, the situation was quite hospitable for these bacteria to conduct their function.

It had been reported that the soldiers were lay down on the wet soil for hours or even days in that cold weather that facilitate the bacteria in the whole process of the wound healing.

Further investigation provides that Photorhabdus luminescens was helpful bacteria that functions quite a same way as modern antibiotics do.

Bill and his friend Jon Curtis received the first prize at International Science and Engineering Fair for their magnificent effort to reveal the mystery of ‘Angle’s Glow’

Mohua Sarker

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology,

Jagannath University, Dhaka.



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