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Monday, 2 January 2012

From eternal fires to venom and personalised medicine

@HealthMed Why should picnics, 'show and tell', and morning break be memorable for a small boy in the Middle East? The road for weekend family visits to the river Zab passed near rocky slopes, above which a heat haze marked scattered low flames. The existence of eternal fires was noted by Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC. A matter-of-fact article in the Pittsburgh Press, 14th May 1965, refers to these as 'seepage of natural gas in the Kirkuk oil field', part of the lands once ruled by Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from ca. 605 BC – 562 BC. The Kirkuk area is now part of northern Iraq. These 'eternal fires', due to natural gas escaping from the rocks, give a possible explanation for the biblical reference to Daniel's three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being put to the den of fire. An obvious reason to survive the fires would be, at the right time, heavy rain temporarily extinguishing the flames. Other sites where self-igniting natural gas leaks occur include Central Java.
Primary school play was subject to interruption by sandstorms, and on one occasion spent indoors to avoid a plague of locusts, so dense as to make breathing difficult. Knowing then of locusts from stories of the plagues of Egypt, my memory is of surprise that hedge and tree leaves were largely uneaten. And 'show and tell' was made the more exotic because a friend's father had ready access to formalin - his son regularly bringing in a preserved scorpion or multi-coloured snake. Both may use in their venom sarafatoxin, a primitive form of endothelin, to immobilise pray through causing angina, due to severe coronary artery spasm. This knowledge about toxins arose from the discovery of endothelin by Yanagisawa, reported in 1988
The ancient town of Arapha, near the modern Kirkuk area oil field discovered in 1927, was an important centre in the time of the Babylonian King Hammurabi (fl. 1792 BC to 1750 BC), who provided the early legal Hammurabi Code, including rules for good medical practice, dating back to around 1772 BC. A historical connection to an early example of guidelines for 'personalising medicine'.

© DRJ Singer

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