Polish scientists isolate bacteria from earthworm intestines, which they say may be used in antibiotics and cancer treatments. Suzannah Butcher reports.
The humble earthworm......which eats its way through dirt, plant debris and all manner of living organisms. As a result, scientists say, earthworms have developed powerful immune systems. And bacteria in their intestines contains compounds that could be used to fight diseases such as cancer. Doctor Marta Fiolka is from Poland's University of Maria Curie-Sklodowska. She says extracting the bacteria can be a challenge. SOUNDBITE (Polish) DOCTOR MARTA FIOLKA, OF THE INSTITUTE OF IMMUNOBIOLOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MARIA CURIE-SKLODOWSKA (UMCS) IN LUBLIN, SAYING: "Isolation of bacteria from the earthworm's intestine is neither an easy nor a short process. First the intestine has to be properly cleaned and rid of micro-organisms, which earthworms collect with soil. Next the appropriate fragment of the intestine has to be cut out and applied to the prepared microbiological base." The scientists also extract cellomatic fluid from the earthworm's body by stimulating it with electricity. This fluid has varying levels of toxicity for different types of cancer cells. But there's a long way to go before these compounds could be used in anti-cancer drugs. Britain's Keith Jones from the Institute of Cancer Research says many compounds are capable of killing cancer cells. (SOUNDBITE) English) PROFESSOR OF SYNTHETIC CHEMISTRY AT THE INSTITUTE OF CANCER RESEARCH, KEITH JONES, SAYING: "I think actually finding the compounds in many cases is the easy part, it's making these into compounds that can survive being taken into an organism, either orally or by injection, and getting to the target and treating the cancer, that's the hard part of drug discovery." With scientists around the world trialling various compounds to fight cancer, these earthworms may be able to provide valuable weapons for that battle.