In the late 1970s, television ratings skyrocketed with the sitcom of Mork and Mindy. Landing on earth in a giant eggshell, Mork came to study earthlings and report his findings back to Orson. Along the way, he made us laugh with his odd behaviors of sitting on his head and wearing his suits backward. It was a time that we questioned the existence of UFOs and aliens. Around the same time period, the movies Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were released. We all know this entertainment was science fiction, but doesn't it make you wonder what exists in outer space?
Scientists are wondering the same thing as they continue to research the tiny particles referred to as nanobacteria. The mysterious nanobacterium appears to be extensively common in outer space and has been acknowledged on 4 continents. Research has linked nanobacteria to atherosclerosis and coronary artery plaque, and they may even be involved in the formation of kidney stones and diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV),1 ovarian cancer,2 and other complex diseases. There is much to be learned about this recent discovery and what may be part of the puzzle in the treatment or cure of many human diseases.
|Figure. Apatite units in kidney stones and in nanobacteria cultures have very similar morphologies. (Courtesy Nanobac Oy.)|
Nanobacteria are the most minute self-replicating organisms ever found. They can vary in size from 20 to 200 nm (50 to 500 billionths of a meter).3 Another way to think of it would be that they are one-thousandth the size of common bacteria and smaller than most viruses. Although nanobacteria do duplicate, it takes an astounding 1 to 3 days for this process to take place.4
Some interesting observations of nanobacteria have been made during the research process. The building blocks of nanobacteria are made from uridine, which they also absorb.5 They can be duplicated in a mixture similar to filtered urine.6 These findings could contribute essential information relating to the treatment of kidney stones, although a lot of questions remain unanswered.
Like bacteria, nanobacteria appear to have cell walls.7 They are spherically shaped and form a calcified shell around themselves. The apatite shell that forms around the nanobacteria absorbs contaminants from the environment.5 It is for this reason, and the fact that these organisms are so small, that researchers have had such a difficult time locating what exactly is inside these protective shells.
OTHER LIFE FORMS
To qualify as ordinary bacteria, 3 characteristics must be present. First, a cell wall must be present for protection against bursting during osmosis and to preserve the shape of the cell. Both DNA and RNA should be present in the nuclear region, and a metabolic system should exist.8 These components comprise the basis for bacteria, whether they are considered Gram-positive or Gram-negative.
The most common types of bacteria reproduce once every 20 minutes.9 To understand the magnitude of just how rapid that is, consider that if one bacterium multiplied every 20 minutes, it would grow to be an army of more than a million bacteria in less than 8 hours. This overgrowth of bacteria is responsible for many health-related illnesses.
Viruses are entirely different from other organisms. They are not cells. Viruses contain either RNA or DNA, but not both, and are coated with protein. They cannot grow in any manner and do not replicate indepen-dently.5 Like nanobacteria, they are small, ranging from 25 to 350 nm, and are difficult to see without a special microscope. Viruses have very little in common with living organisms, yet they are associated with many infectious and deadly human diseases.8
Viroids and Prions
In addition to bacteria and viruses, there are viroids and prions, which are particles even smaller than viruses. Viroids contain only a small portion of RNA and have been associated with diseased potatoes and other plants. No known viroids infect animals, but there is no reason to believe that they could not.8 Prions are one-tenth the size of a virus and are made up of a protein molecule that appears to be self-replicating.8 Prions are not regarded as living, although they are known to be the cause of mad cow disease.10 It is quite possible that with the discovery of nanobacteria, the science community has stumbled onto something very similar to prions.
Scientists are still not sure if nanobacteria are really bacteria, since we do not know what is contained inside the sphere, even with the power of advanced microscopes. Some scientists argue that nanobacteria are much too small to store nucleic acid (RNA or DNA).10 Others agree that for an organism to function, it must be at least 140 nm in diameter and possess both DNA and proteins.5 Some scientists have said that nanobacteria are probably not bacteria at all but may be a new form of life.11 Several researchers are of the opinion that since RNA is not present, these particles are not life forms.12 There are others who argue it is just an unusual form of crystal, since it is not susceptible to being destroyed by heat or other techniques that would ordinarily kill bacteria.9 This leaves many questions to be answered as the search for the truth about nanobacteria moves on.
A Finnish biochemist, Olavi Kajander, discovered nano-bacteria by accident in 1988. He was searching to find out why certain cultures of mammalian cells would not survive. He and his colleague, Neva Ciftcioglu, observed some of the old cultures of mammalian cells while using an electron microscope. To their surprise they noticed bacteria that were an amazing one hundred times smaller than ordinary bacteria. These small particles appeared to be flourishing in the dying cells of the culture. Because Kajander believed these particles could possibly be a new life form and they were calculated in size by a nanometer, he dubbed them "nanobacteria."
Not long after this discovery, Robert Folk, a professor emeritus at the University of Texas, discovered similar particles in mineral deposits near volcanoes. He noticed under high magnification that these nanometer-sized particles were spherical or oval and had a tendency to occur in chains or clusters. He, too, thought these particles were small bacteria.12
Then in 1996 and 1997, what appeared to be nano-bacterial fossilized textures were detected in meteorites from Mars, which led to the prospect of extraterrestrial life.12 This information led some researchers to believe that nanobacteria were a geological occurrence opposed to a biological one, since they had been found in rocks and minerals. In addition, there was no biological proof that they existed elsewhere. Others theorized that these small elements were "the most primitive and earliest form of life on Earth and outer space." This discovery has caused excitement for some and doubt to many in the science community.
LINK TO HUMAN DISEASES
In spite of the controversy concerning nanobacteria and its true form, Kajander and microbiologist Ciftcioglu were convinced that these particles played a bigger role in microbiology than had been previously recognized. In 1998 they established the link between nanobacteria and kidney stones while observing nanobacteria under an electron microscope. The particles assembled a shell of calcium phosphate around themselves. Very similar calcium compounds form the composition of kidney stones.9 This became a new lead into additional research to attest that nanobacteria did have a significant function.
The investigation into kidney stones turned out to be right on target. Extensive examination verified that nanobacteria particles were present in the center of kidney stones.9 Additionally, researchers discovered that nanobacteria grown in laboratories form calcium phosphate shells that are very similar to those found in gallstones and bladder stones.6 This is the proof that scientists were looking for. Now, nanobacteria research could receive the attention and authenticity that it deserved.
NASA's Johnson Space Center assisted in validating this research when they conducted a study on the duplication of nanobacteria in February 2005. Using an incubator that simulates the microgravity of outer space, they observed that nanobacteria grow at 5 times the normal rate. This news caused NASA some concern that astronauts might be at an increased risk for kidney stones when in zero gravity. They will have to conduct further investigations prior to any considerations of sending humans to Mars. The good news is that it could improve the pace of research by means of rapidly growing cultures to be studied9 (Figure).
Artherosclerosis is associated with the calcification of the arterial tissue and inflammation. The inflammation may originate from a microbial infection. Because atherosclerosis is associated with calcifying tissue, the presence of nanobacteria was suspected. Therefore, in 2004 the Mayo Clinic carried out a research project along with the Heart Hospital of Austin, Tex. The study revealed that nanobacteria were detected inside diseased human arteries10 and cardiac valves.5 This was a breakthrough for finding a link to atherosclerotic plaque, coronary artery plaque, and heart disease.4 It is unclear if nanobacteria are present in the arterial walls because they have an affinity for the plaque deposits present, or if the plaque deposits are a product of nanobacteria. However, critics still question the research and are not convinced that nanobacteria is a blood bacteria or any type of life form.
The relationship between periodontal disease and nano-bacteria has not been distinguished. However, nanobacteria have been recognized in tooth pulp stone, saliva, and dental plaque.13 The description of the nanobacteria outer shell seems similar to dental calculus. It is possible that nanobacteria may be the connection between periodontal disease and other systemic diseases. This possible link has spawned interest among researchers to resume studying the progression and origin of periodontal disease in regards to nanobacteria.
Nanobacteria also play a role in ovarian cancer. Microcal-cifications or psammoma bodies are often associated with ovarian cancer and can be associated with chronic inflammation. The psammoma bodies are found in cancerous and noncancerous tumor cells. Nanobacteria are responsible for facilitating the crystallization of psammoma bodies in ovarian cancer.2 This discovery correlates the contribution of nanobacteria to ovarian cancer.
Eczema and Psoriasis
Nanobacteria have been related to many skin conditions. Studies have shown that nanoparticles are tied to an assortment of inflammatory skin disorders, but the studies have not been sizeable enough to obtain specific results. It is still unknown if nanobacteria are a primary or secondary cause of eczema, psoriasis, and other nonspecific dermatitis. What we do know is that there is a link between nanoparticles and many dermatologic conditions.14
Since a nanobacterium creates a biofilm around itself, it seems possible that it could be related to many plaques in the human body. According to the authors of Infection Protection, this calcification process has revealed itself to several scientific researchers to be the basis of many diseases.4 Those diseases include the following:
(1) atherosclerotic plaque
(2) coronary plaque
(3) heart disease
(4) kidney stones
(7) liver cysts
(8) breast calcification
(9) dental plaque
(10) periodontal disease
(11) rheumatoid arthritis
(13) multiple sclerosis
(14) Alzheimer's disease.
Considering their size and the fact that the particles can go undetected in human blood, many questions are raised about nanobacteria. The American Society of Microbiology announced in May 2001 that nanobacteria had been found as a contaminant in medical products such as blood and vaccines that were presumed sterile. Because nanobacteria are so small, the filtering system used to sterilize these medical products is not adequate to the task. The only way to sterilize vaccines effectively and protect them against nanobacterial contamination is by passing the cultures through a filtering system 20 nm in size and then irradiating them with 150 megarads. This process will kill any nanobacteria present.4 This finding verifies that nano-bacteria can go undetected in the blood.
Because nanobacteria are so small, they are not easily detected. The means of detection are lengthy and complicated. Perhaps what re-searchers require is new equipment to assist with the identification of nanobacteria. This could quite possibly push forward the research of many diseases and move closer to a cure.
To date, there are no proven cures or treatments to eradicate nanobacteria. The highly resis-tant calcium shell that surrounds nanobacteria creates a barrier for medications.4 Penicillin, cephalosporins, and macrolides are not effective, since the necessary dosage would be too high for humans to ingest.15 It has been indicated that nanobacteria are tetracycline sensitive,16 however, it is not apparent if tetracycline can penetrate the outer casing of nanobacteria to be effective in treating or eliminating them.
The Mayo Clinic conducted a study in 2004 that provided encouraging results that nano-bacteria may indeed be a life form. Under electron microscopes, they found indirect evidence of self-replication9 as well as the existence of a cell-like exterior.7 Also, it appeared that the particles were synthesizing nucleic acids.7 Their findings have prompted the group to continue to study nanobacteria in hopes of detecting DNA and RNA.
The emerging role of nano-bacteria is breathing new life into the research of many human diseases. Some of these diseases may be linked, just as periodontal disease and heart disease have been recently associated with each other. The fact that nanobacteria appear to be involved in diseases of tissue calcifications provides us with new anticipation of cures and treatments for many human diseases. With further research, we could quite possibly find new treatments or even cures for illnesses that are currently hopeless diseases.
1. Nanobacteria in clouds could spread disease, scientists claim. April 7, 2005. Available at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=22413#. Accessed September 12, 2005.
2. Sedivy R, Battistutti WB. Nanobacteria promote crystallization on psammoma bodies in ovarian cancer. APMIS. 2003;111:951-954.
3. NASA's Johnson Space Center to study nanobacteria. SpaceRef Interactive web site. September 13, 2004. Available at: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=15024. Accessed July 17, 2005.
4. Klatz RM, Goldman RM. Infection Protection: How to Fight the Germs That Make You Sick. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers; 2002:17-18.
5. Hogan J. Are nanobacteria alive? EurekAlert web site; published in New Scientist, May 22, 2004. Available at: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-05/ns-ana051904.php. Accessed July 17, 2005.
6. Whitehouse D. Do nanobacteria rule Earth and Mars? BBC News web site, Sci/Tech page. March 22, 1999. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/300949.stm. Accessed July 25, 2005.
7. Rincon P. Claim made for new form of life. BBC News web site, Sci/Tech page. May 19, 2004. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3729487.stm. Accessed July 17, 2005.
8. Black JG. Microbiology: Principles and Applications. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall; 1993:225-292.
9. Asaravala A. Are nanobacteria making us ill? Wired News web site. March 14, 2005. Available at: http://www.wired.com/ news/print/0,1294,66861,00.html. Accessed September 13, 2005.
10. Airhart M. Nanobacteria. Earth and Sky web site. Available at: http://www. earthsky.org/shows/nanoshow.php?t=20050722. Accessed July 25, 2005.
11. Hogan J. Nanobacteria revelations provoke new controversy. New Scientist web site. May 19, 2004. Available at: http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn5009. Accessed July 17, 2005.
12. Nannobacteria. Mississippi State University geosciences dept. web site. Available at: http://www.msstate.edu/ dept/geosciences/4site/nannobacteria.htm. Accessed July 17, 2005.
13. Ciftcioglu N, McKay DS, Kajander EO. Association between nanobacteria and periodontal disease. Circulation. 2003;108:e58. Available at: http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/108/8/e58. Accessed July 17, 2005.
14. Harvima R. Association of nanobacteria with dermatological diseases. NanoBac Oy company web site. Available at: http://www.nanobac.com/nbminisymp080301/page11.html. Accessed July 29, 2005.
15. What are nanobacteria? Patient page of Nanobac Life Sciences web site. Available at: http://www.nanobaclabs.com/patients. Accessed July 17, 2005.
16. Nanobacteria: not a life form. Natural Science web site. November 27, 2000. Available at: http://naturalscience.com/ ns/cover/cover14.html. Accessed September 12, 2005.