Monday, March 14, 2005

Nanobacteria? To See 'em, get Closer, even Closer

They may be particles. They may be a new form of life. For now, they are called Nanobacteria, and they are very curious indeed and more than a little frightening.
Olavi Kajander didn't mean to discover the mysterious particles that have been called the most primitive organisms on Earth and that could be responsible for a series of painful and sometimes fatal illnesses.

He was simply trying to find out why certain cultures of mammalian cells in his lab would die no matter how carefully he prepared them.

So the Finnish biochemist and his colleagues slipped some of their old cultures under an electron microscope one day in 1988 and took a closer look. That's when they saw the particles. Like bacteria but an astonishing 100 times smaller, they seemed to be thriving inside the dying cells.

Believing them to be a possible new form of life, Kajander named the particles "nanobacteria," published a paper outlining his findings and spurred one of the biggest controversies in modern microbiology.
The controversy is a tempest in a teapot, but it has essentially stifled reasearch. This is too bad. Not only because of the known dangers from nanobacteria, "kidney stones, aneurysms and ovarian cancer." But also because of another not-quite-alive contaminant in the human food supply... the prion that causes Mad Cow Disease.
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