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 by medicine that include: 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-occur 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, meaning 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.

Biotech Scrutiny of Venoms

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Twenty-third in a series - V is for Venoms

Here is an enlightening excerpt in our quest to study biotech as laypeople, written in 2013 by Dhananjaya Bhadrapura Lakkappa, a scientist who was then working in the Toxinology Lab, School of Chemical and Bio-Technology of SASTRA University in southern India:

Biotechnology is the application of science and technology to living organisms, as well as parts, products and models thereof, to develop useful products to improve human lives and its environment. By application of modern advanced technologies, manipulating and thus intervening the biological organisms or biological process, has thus far brought revolution in production of useful products used profitably in health care (medicine, diagnosis etc.) agriculture, animal husbandry and environmental implications, thus having a dramatic effect on the world economy and society. In these lines in the recent years the use of animal venoms and its toxins – a natural product, as a source of material for biotechnological application has received much attention from pharmaceutical industry and experts in the field of applied research. (ref)

This researcher understands his field of work and his mission, and though his English has some quirks to us, he helps us to understand the positive goals of the world-changing field of biotech with a special focus on venom toxins. In his article he explains that venoms are— “a highly evolved cocktail of biologically active proteins/peptides and other molecules… used by the organism to immobilize, capture their prey and to defend against its predators.”

He notes that the venom interacts with specific molecular targets with ‘Cruise missile’ precision, and understanding those pathways has brought new insights in biotech. He gives credit as well to ancient medical practices and homeopathy that used, for example, cobra venom to treat joint pain, inflammation and arthritis. He then catalogs numerous drugs that have been developed in labs to treat a spectrum of diseases and conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and stroke. Biotech is on the move!

Venoms of snakes, spiders and other organisms are a fertile area for the discovery of novel products with biotech and drug applications for such things as high blood pressure, cancer, immune system disorders, and syndromes like Guillain-Barre where muscle weakness ends in paralysis. It is very interesting to think of researchers using the neurotoxin of a snake that paralyzes its victim to reverse engineer its properties to prevent paralysis.

With potentially 20 million distinct venom toxins that have specific target areas and effects, and with only about 1000 of them analyzed so far by scientists, we can look for much greater help from venoms in the future.

This topic brings to mind that the snake is the symbol of healing embraced by medical societies over the ages. Although two snakes on a pole topped with wings, known as the caduceus, is mistakenly used by some societies, its mythological origin has no association with medicine or healing.

The internet mostly says that the serpent on the pole is the rod of Asclepius. In Greek mythology, he was Apollo’s son. Apollo was an important god whose domain included medicine as well as sun, light, art, music, plague, knowledge, and other areas of life.

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The cult of Asclepius became popular about 300 BC and over time the snake and the rod were combined as the expression of healing. Theories as to why this occurred include the Biblical account of Moses lifting the bronze serpent on a pole in the wilderness so that if any of the rebellious, sinful Israelites would look at it, they would be healed from the snake bites enforced by God on them as discipline. This theory is what we would call the explanation. (Num 21:9)

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I wonder if the thoroughly secular World Health Organization or EMS or medical societies would acknowledge that their iconic serpent on a pole pictures, ultimately, Jesus Christ, who stated, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jhn 3:14-16)

This Old Testament event foreshadowed the lifting of Christ in crucifixion, about which he said, “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28)

He was explaining that he would be obedient to death and suffer cruel judgment at the Father’s Hands, becoming sin to suffer in our place. His obedience won our victory. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Co 5:21)

The serpent is first introduced in Genesis 3 as the embodiment of Satanic evil, yet is turned from that root meaning to depict victory over sin and death when He became sin who knew no sin.

It made no sense to the Israelites to lift their eyes to the bronze serpent but they gladly did it to avoid dying. It was a step of faith.

Some commentators suggest that the bronze serpent was attached to the pole horizontally to picture the cross of Christ. We cannot know how it was presented to the Jews then.

Today, those who take the step of faith to look to Christ crucified, understand they cannot save themselves from sin. We need a Savior. And his obedience— learned by what he suffered (Heb 5:8) — gives us confidence that he knows exactly how to intercede for us.

As biotech finds healing elements in snake toxins and we celebrate new means of deliverance from diseases, let us even more shout the praises of the bronze serpent on the pole who gives us everlasting life.

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...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

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