Saturday, August 22, 2009

John Harper

    Captain Archibald Gracey was an elderly retired seaman. Working diligently with all his might he was able to get as many people as possible into the lifeboats. Even though he was onboard when it sank he was rescued. After the tragedy he wrote in his memoirs,
      "The most pathetic and horrible scene of all," he said, "was the piteous cries of those who were perishing around us. The cries still ring in my ears."

Born in Scotland on May 29, 1872, John Harper became a Christian 13 years later. His life was challenged by adversity and punctuated by tragedy. Throughout it all faith was his anchor. As a toddler he fell into a well nearly drowning. By the time he was seventeen he was preaching and trained at the Baptist Pioneer Mission in London. In his mid twenties he was swept out to sea and six years later he was stranded in the middle of the Mediterranean on a leaky ship. By 1896 he established the Paisley Road Baptist Church that began with 25 members. Happily married he soon became a widower raising his daughter Nina after his wife died. A little over a decade later his small parsonage had grown to 500 members. An evangelist John possessed a deep passion for souls. As a pastor he would often spend the whole night pacing up and down the aisle of his house of worship praying for church members by name. He professed the simplest of doctrines saying that it was "the Word of God."

The early spring of 1912 found the Scottish pastor looking forward to the voyage across the Atlantic to the Moody Memorial Church. For £33 he booked his passage and excitedly began to pack. His six-year-old daughter Nina would be accompanying him as well as his sister Jessie Wills Leitch who would tend to Nina as her nanny. John Harper and his small family boarded the Titanic as 2nd Class passengers at Southampton on Wednesday 10th April 1912, destination: Chicago Illinois United States.

The love story you won't see in James Cameron's Titanic

The Titanic was no run of the mill ship. It was the epitome of luxury and power advertised as "a floating hotel, a small town at sea." John Harper and his family waved fondly at thousands who gathered to watch it set sail. Later on as the orchestra played John Harper stood on the deck in the afterglow of the sunset watching the red western sky, he said, It will be beautiful in the morning. At 11:40 p.m. a giant iceberg scraped the starboard side of the world's biggest man-made moveable object. The deck was showered with ice, as it buckled the sides ripping open six watertight compartments. The sea poured in and the stern of the huge ship began to reel upwards. A few minutes later a deep rumble could be heard echoing from the holds of majestic queen of the White Star fleet.

Jessie had been awakened by John. Grabbing the sleeping Nina from her berth she took her on deck clad only in her little night gown, wrapped in a blanket and then again in Jessie's cloak. The Carpathia located sixty miles away rescued both girls who had made it safely to the life boats. As Jessie stood shivering in the cold night air a woman insisted on throwing a heavy ulster over her. They would spend the night huddled in the corner of the ship's library. Nina and Jessie would not learn the fate of John until they arrived in New York.

By the breath of God frost is given1

Harper scrambled up the deck calling, "Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!" Someone told him there was an explosion but in reality the ship was breaking in half. People began jumping off the decks and into the dark ocean below. While other people were trying to buy their way onto the lifeboats John Harper flung himself into the 28-degree water. Over 1500 people jumped or fell into the icy water and as hypothermia quickly set in many died of exposure. Only six of the 1,500 people in the water were eventually rescued, one by one each gradually drowned or froze to death.

Harper gave up his lifejacket to one man and was seen swimming frantically from one passenger to another offering the salvation of Christ. Survivors report that he then began witnessing to anyone who would listen. John Harper clung to a board for nearly an hour listening to the feeble cries as he called out trying to comfort the frightened.

The Titanic disappeared three hours later into the inky, bitter waters of the North Atlantic. Even after the great ship was at the bottom of the sea, the newspapers announced that the Titanic was "absolutely unsinkable." The headline in New York Evening Sun the following afternoon read: "All Saved From Titanic After Collision." When news of the disaster exploded around the world. The unsinkable Titanic had sunk, a wail of sorrow swept through the civilized world at the thought of over a thousand lives being lost. Survivor Eva Hart, about the same age as Nina at the time said in an interview before her death in 1996, "The wreck of the Titanic is a monument to man's arrogance."

Hold me up in mighty waters2

A message soon arrived at John Harper's church saying, "Miss Leitch and Nana (sic) arrived well. Lost everything. When they were taken to the upper decks the women and children did not know it meant separation. No opportunity for farewells. We have no hopes Mr. Harper is rescued." Sometime perhaps later that month Jessie Leitch's wrote a brief account for the grieving parishioners of the church where John Harper was heading. It was found between two pages in the minute book for the executive committee of the Moody Memorial Church, near the minutes for April 17, 1912. :

    About midnight Mr. Harper came to our stateroom and told us that the vessel had struck an iceberg. While I was dressing he went to learn further particulars, and returned to say that the order had been given to put on the life belts. We did so, and, picking up Nana (sic) in his arms, he took her up to the deck. There the women were ordered to the upper deck. I had to climb a vertical iron ladder, and Mr. Harper brought Nana (sic) after me up to the ladder, and the men at the top lifted her up to me again.

    There was no opportunity for farewell, and, in fact, even then we did not realize the danger, as we were assured again and again that the vessel could not sink, that the Olympic would be alongside at any minute, and that the women and children were to be put into the boats first and the men to follow, and that there were boats sufficient for all. Our boat was well manned- it was the eleventh to leave the vessel.

    After about half an hour the Titanic went down. We were about a mile away, but even then I hope and expected that Mr. Harper was in one of the other boats, many of which reached the Carpathia before ours did. How eagerly I looked for his face on the deck as we approached that vessel, but when all the boatloads had come abroad I feared the worst.

    The last day we spent on the Titanic was Sunday. Mr. Harper asked me to read the chapter at our morning family prayers, and later we went to the Sunday morning services. The day was quietly and pleasantly spent, and when Nana (sic) and I went to look for Mr. Harper at about 6 o'clock to go to dinner I found him earnestly talking to a young Englishman whom he was seeking to lead to Christ. That evening before we retired we went on deck, and there was still a glint of red in the west. I remember Mr. Harper saying, "It will be beautiful in the morning." We then went down to the staterooms. He read from the Bible and prayed, and so he left us.

    I caught hold of something and clung to it for dear life, the wail of the perishing all around was ringing in my ears.
    (Hears Ship Strike Iceberg)

Of the half dozen survivors that were rescued from the icy waters that night, one of them was a young man Harper had spoken to while they floated among the debris. Historian Elesha Coffman tells about John Harper's last convert:
    Four years later a Scotchman rose in a meeting in Hamilton, Canada, and said, "I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper, of Glasgow, also on a piece of wreck near me. 'Man,' he said, 'are you saved?' 'No,' I said. 'I am not.' He replied, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.'3

    The waves bore him away; but, strange to say brought him back a little later, and he said, 'Are you saved now?' 'No,' I said, 'I cannot honestly say that I am.' He said again, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,'3and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper's last convert.
    (Sacrifice at Sea)

When the Titanic sank John Harper was 39 years old. He had preached numerous times in Ulster, especially East Belfast not far from the Harland & Wolff shipyards where the Titanic was built. There were many heroes that fateful night aboard the Titanic and one was Pastor John Harper. In 1922 the Harper Memorial Baptist Church in Glasgow, Scotland was renamed for the evangelist. John Harper's body was never recovered.


Adams, Moody. The Titanic's Last Hero The Olive Press, 1997.

Christianity Today

Billy Graham Center Archives, A Story of the Titanic - Newspaper Clippings

Picture Source

Sacrifice at Sea

Tan, Paul Lee, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, Assurance Publishers, 1982.

Titanic Inquiry Project - US Senate Report - Passenger List

"Tragic Death of John Harper," clipping from Chicago paper, April 14, 1912.

Titanic Passengers and Crew: Fr John Harper

"Will Care for Girl Here," clipping from Chicago paper, April 14, 1912.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Sour Grapes (1921)
William Carlos Williams


The dayseye hugging the earth
in August, ha! Spring is
gone down in purple,
weeds stand high in the corn,
the rainbeaten furrow
is clotted with sorrel
and crabgrass, the
branch is black under
the heavy mass of the leaves--
The sun is upon a
slender green stem
ribbed lengthwise.
He lies on his back--
it is a woman also--
he regards his former
majesty and
round the yellow center,
split and creviced and done into
minute flowerheads, he sends out
his twenty rays-- a little
and the wind is among them
to grow cool there!

One turns the thing over
in his hand and looks
at it from the rear: brownedged,
green and pointed scales
armor his yellow.
But turn and turn,
the crisp petals remain
brief, translucent, greenfastened,
barely touching at the edges:
blades of limpid seashell.

It's worth a peeking through William Carlos Williams magic window of images in this poem about the rather common and plain flower called a daisy. Many times publishers shied away from William Carlos Williams's hard to label reflections because he wrote with a unique way using a sardonic kind of Pollyannaism at times. However, when I read his Daisy from his Sour Grapes (1921) (one of his four botanical studies. Primrose, Queen Anne's Lace, and Great Mullen) It's so observable through his eyes; here he has been ingeniously minimalist with a fleeting survey of visual devices :
    Spring . . .
    gone down in purple,
    weeds . . .
    high in the corn,
    a clotted furrow
His delicate musings of a close up of the poetical flower:
    One turns the thing over
    in his hand and looks
    at it from the rear: brown edged
    green and pointed scales
    armor his yellow.

The Columbia Encyclopedia explains that "The daisy of literature, the true daisy, is Bellis perennis, called in the United States English daisy. This is a low European plant, cultivated in the United States mostly in the double form, with heads of white, pink, or red flowers. The English daisy, which closes at night, has long been considered the flower of children and of innocence.... Among other plants called daisy, yellow daisy is a synonym for the black-eyed Susan and then there are the seaside daisy and daisy fleabane along with the Michaelmas daisy, for an aster."

Williams frequently displays this worldly composite of ironic optimism and when he does as a reader I am handed the feeling that if I have the patience to wait through trouble, better times will come.


daisy. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001:

Picture Source

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Christopher Marlowe

CROWNED, girdled, garbed and shod with light and fire,
Son first-born of the morning, sovereign star!
Soul nearest ours of all, that wert most far.
Most far off in the abysm of time, thy lyre
Hung highest above the dawn-enkindled quire
Where all ye sang together, all that are,
And all the starry songs behind thy car
Rang sequence, all our souls acclaim thee sire.
"If all the pens that ever poets held
Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts,"
And as with rush of hurtling chariots
The flight of all their spirits were impelled
Toward one great end, thy glory -- nay, not then,
Not yet might'st thou be praised enough of men.
Algernon Charles Swinburne(1837-1909)

Christopher Marlowe, dramatist and free-thinker, born in 1564, the son of a shoemaker was fatally stabbed in Deptford on May 30 in 1593. This piece can be found in Sonnets of English Dramatic Poets (1590-1650) published in 1882.

May 30th is one of the most important dates in English literature. After the evening meal on that fateful night at an inn Deptford, playwright Christopher Marlowe was murdered. Time has obscured the circumstances and many theories today declare that Marlowe wasn't murdered at all. Some claim that he faked his death in order to escape enemies, to escape prosecution for atheism, (which was punishable by death during the 16th century) or to go undercover in the Queen's service. Marlowe is considered among the premiere of Elizabethan dramatists primarily for Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus and Edward II. His entire writing career spanned less than seven years and he is greatly praised for his proficiency with plot and diction.

What's interesting about this sonnet is Swinburne's clever application of Marlowe's own blank verse in the poem. The first two lines of the sestet come from the fourth act of the first part of Tamburlaine:

What is beauty saith my sufferings, then?
If all the pens that ever poets held
Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts,
And every sweetness that inspired their hearts,
Their minds, and muses on admired themes:
If all the heavenly quintessence they still
From their immortal flowers of Poesy,
Wherein as in a mirror we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit;
If these had made one poem's period,
And all combined in beauty's worthiness,
Yet should there hover in their restless heads
One thought, one grace, one wonder at the least,
Which into words no virtue can digest.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, poet and critic said: "Of English blank verse, one of the few highest forms of verbal harmony, or poetic expression, Marlowe was the absolute and divine creator. He is the greatest discoverer, the most daring and intrepid pioneer, in all our poetic literature. After his arrival the way was prepared ... for Shakespeare." Producing prolific studies of such writers as Lord Byron, William Blake, Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire; it was his work on Shakespeare and his contemporaries which is most memorable as a critical influence today.


Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

Swinburne, Algernon

The Marlowe Society

Picture Source

The Poet's Corner

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nose Art

Highflying descendants of the ship's figurehead, the colorful, non-regulation artworks that decorate the metal skins of combat aircraft are great morale boosters for pilots and crew alike... (T)he slogans and images used in aviation art, surveying the genre from ...cheeky graffiti; cartoon characters "borrowed'' from Disney, Warner Bros., and Charles Schultz; animal art—from snarling tigers and fire-breathing dragons to predatory sharks and eagles; and that glorious staple of the species, the pinup!
-Nose Art Book Review, by J. P. Wood

When many hear the phrase "nose art," it invokes imagery of World War II fighter planes zigzagging across the wild blue yonder engaged in dogfights with Luftwaffe while sporting pin-up girls, predatory eagles or "Old Glory." It is a fundamental part of military aviation history that deepens the mythology of classic bomber planes and other military aircraft.

Like Warhol's did the sixties, the paintings on B-17s and B-24s during the Second World War summed up the popular art of its time. The drive to personalize an object is basic to the nature of man and history illustrates that this form artwork covers almost a century, from World War I — to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Its most distinguished era was unmistakably during World War II and Korea. Boosting the morale of the pilots and crew was important and it was a time when military commanders weren't as concerned about political correctness during the crew's most hazardous and deadly duties. It was the aviator's obsession under great stress and uncertainty among the underlying current of war. To personalize their war chariots, these renegade pilots chose a variety of designs to distinguished each plane from the thousand that rolled off the assembly line. Many times matching patches for a crew's flight jackets accompany the themes.

Flying battalions began to use it as early as 1913 and the art went beyond nationality as both Allies and Axis pilots went to war in their individually marked war craft. The beginnings of the practice of painting planes is credited to the Italians who "painted a sea monster on a flying boat" and the Germans, who frequently painted a mouth beneath the propeller of their planes during World War I. In the past airmen had named their aircraft, but it was nose art that let them to bring that name to life. Artist had to use whatever was at hand. Working overnight to create their art piece they used second-rate paints, brushes, and solvents. Even fuel was used in place of turpentine. Even though professional artists were paid up to $15 per aircraft, many artists were off-duty enlisted personnel that painted aircraft for free.

A wide variety of services and units had special procedures about aircraft usage and decoration. Marine and Navy different pilots usually shared aircraft so they had a more generalized decoration. Army Air Force airplanes were assigned to individual pilots and in particular the aircrews of bombers. Because of these units many of the most colorful and creative nose art decorated USAAF planes. Nose Art gave individuality, spirit, and absurdity to cold machinery in ways that a serial number never could. It made the members of the crew feel unique, inspiring hope that their plane and their painting would bring them luck and get them safely home. The ideas came from wives, girlfriends, posters, calendars, and the comics. Some of the catchier names from the B-17's are the Shady Lady, Loaded Dice, Miss Behav'in, and Heavenly Body to name a few. Pilots, their combat crews, the ground crews, and others picked most names and many were modeled after the cheesecake art of Gil Elvgren, Alberto Vargas, and George Petty. Probably the most well known painted lady that adorned the nose of the B-17 is the "telephone girl" the Memphis Belle of the 324th Bomber Squadron. She assumed its place in history in May 1943 as the first B17 Flying Fortress to have completed 25 missions. To the crews, each craft was different; Nose Art made them unique. Separated from home, family, loved ones and a familiar way of life men at war sought ways to personalize and get away from the very cruel business around them

The Gulf War saw a renewal of nose art. With hundreds of aircrafts and thousands of the Air Force's finest deployed to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the Emirates, it didn't take long for nose art to resurface. As in the past, it was allowed to stay, but only for the extent of the war. The most recent example appeared soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the DoD allowed the use of Let's Roll art on aircraft. Originally designed by Senior Airman Duane White attached to the Air Combat Command's multimedia center at Langley Air Force Base, VA. The nose art depicts an eagle soaring in front of the U.S. flag, with the words "Spirit of 9-11" on the sword blade and "Let's Roll!" on the bottom. Todd Beamer, a passenger on Flight 93, made the phrase legendary. "Beamer, a 32-year-old businessman, Sunday school teacher, husband, father and hero, led other passengers in fighting terrorists for control of Flight 93 before it crashed into a field in western Pennsylvania. He was overheard on a cellular phone reciting the Lord's Prayer and saying "Let's roll!" as passengers charged the terrorists." Let's Roll began to show up on Air Force aircraft by the middle of January in 2002. Soon after the Thunderbirds and Air Force Single ship demonstration teams began using the art on all of their assigned aircraft. Other commands and wings are authorized to use the nose art on one aircraft of their choice as their tribute to the events of September 11, 2001. It was removed on the one-year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Still the legacy lives on. On January 29, 2003 for the first time in a half-century of launch history Cape Canaveral featured this artwork displayed on the rocket Delta II carrying a Global Positioning System satellite and the experimental XSS-10 micro-satellite.

During its heyday nose art served many purposes: as a battle cry, a good luck symbol, a way to ward off evil, death, and bullets while giving the aircraft a personality. Today the military tries to keep a sense of decorum and professionalism in regulating nose art and it's doubtful there will be more leggy images of another Memphis Belle anytime soon. However, nose art is still alive and well and the military enforces a "3-ft. square rule" with the art has become low key and less colorful because of the need for camouflage. The tradition continues to maintain a strong presence as a reminder to the Air Force members that current customs, courtesies and procedures are rooted in past accomplishments and traditions of the U.S.Air Service, the Air Corps and the Army Air Forces.


Aircraft Nose Art

B-17 Memphis Belle

381st Bomb Group Nose Art

Frugal's World of Simulations – Hill AFB

Legendary USA "Let's Roll!" Nose Art Decal

McChord Air Museum Homepage

Nose Art

Patrick honors 9/11 victims through artwork

Picture Source

Pretty Deadly (Nose Art)

Unison Industries

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)

The post-1848 generation looked with contempt on what it considered the excesses and the bad taste of the preceding Romantic era. A new interest in science and a new vogue of realism in literature and the arts prevailed during the Second Empire; it was best embodied in the novels of Gustave Flaubert and the paintings of Gustave Courbet.

From partial clarifications made by Courbet, one can get a broad meaning inherent to Realism as the Realists and their friendly opponents understood it.

    "To be able to translate the customs, ideas and appearances of my time as I see them--in a word, to create a living art--this has been my aim...The art of painting can consist only in the representation of objects visibleand tangible to the painter (who must apply) his personal faculties to the ideas and the things of the period in which he lives...I hold also that painting is an essentially concrete art, and can consist only of the representation of things both real and existing...An abstract object, invisible or nonexistent, does not belong to the domain of painting...Show me an angel, and I'll paint one.

Gustave Courbet has long been considered the patriarch of the Realist movement in nineteenth-century art; certainly he used the term realism in exhibiting his own works, even though he shunned such labels. "The title Realist," he insisted, "was thrust upon me, just as the title Romantic was imposed upon the men of 1830. Titles have never given a true idea of things." Misunderstandings as to what Realism is has been widespread since Courbet's time. Champfleury wrote in 1857 (a friendly critic who recognized and appreciated Courbet's work) saying: I will not define Realism...I do not know where it comes from, where it goes, what it is ... The name horrifies me by its pedantic ending...there is enough confusion already about that famous word." Disagreement and tumult about Realism still exists among historians of the nineteenth- and for that matter, twentieth century art. Yet Courbet expressed wish explained that he wanted to be only [of his time and to paint only what it made visible to him.

Born into a wealthy family in the mostly rural area of Franche-Comté, Gustave became an anticlerical painter who empathically believed working class people should be treated with dignity. He trained at the Academy and was rejected because of his fierce championship of the Realist cause. He constantly defied both public taste and the art juries who considered his work too coarsely materialistic (so much so as to be plainly socialistic) and too large. Ordinary people as the ones he chose to depict were considered by the public to be unsuitable for artistic representation and were associated in the middle class mind with the dangerous, newly defined working class, which was finding outspoken champions in the likes of Marx, Engels, Proudhon, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, and Dickens. Rejected by the jury of exhibitions, Courbet developed his own Salon des Refusés (called the Scandal of Salon of 1850) where only those who had been rejected could show. The Academy was still under Neo-Classicism and it's pluralistic style.

Most of his art bore a truthful representation of every day life--nonglamorous representative work, confrontational to the Academy he used impasto with muddy colors, that were almost photographic.

Courbet's pavilion and his declarations amounted to the manifestoes of the new movement. Although he disclaimed the idea that he initiated this new movement he did accept the term "realism" as descriptive of his art. With the unplanned collaboration of Millet, Daumier and other artists, Courbet challenged the whole iconographic stock of the Tradition and called attention to what Baudelaire coined as the "heroism of modern life," which Courbet felt should replace all the heroism of traditional subject matter. For the public is was a competition between the painters of the 'ugly' (Courbet) and the painters of the 'beautiful' (those who oppose Courbet), as the public understood those qualities.

Representative of Courbet's work is the Burial at Ornans which portrays a funeral in a bleak, provincial landscape, attended by obscure persons "of no importance," the type of people presented by Balzac and Flaubert in their novels.

Beyond his novel subject matter, Courbet's intentions were straightforward and simple vehicles of expression in composition and technique and to his contemporaries deemed crude, as well as primitive. Using a traditional bold and somber palette of colors he often employed the palette knife, with which he could rapidly place and unify large daubs of paint, with a roughly wrought surface as the end product. His example inspired the young men of who worked with him (and later Impressionists like Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir), however the critics wrote of his 'brutalities" and the public accused him of "carelessness".

Although often at odds with his critics in his later years Courbet painted with greater intentions of pleasing the public and had been accepted officially by the late 1850's. Indeed painting in more traditional styles of dark underpainting and heavy chiaroscuro, subjects easily familiar to the popular Salon. His latent conservatism disappointed the younger artist who had admired Courbet's courageous individualism and his vigor of techniques and style. Most of the Impressionists had associated and exhibited with him in their early years, but Courbet failed to catch the spirit of their new artistic endeavors. Regardless, history nor the Impressionists can deny the catalyst Courbet's art had given the movement toward a modernism based on observations of the modern environment.

Politically a socialist, Courbet took part in some revolutionary activities for which he was imprisoned for six months in 1871. He was also fined more than he could pay, so he fled to Switzerland, where he died in the town of La Tour-de-Peilz on Dec. 31, 1877.

Sources :


De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson, Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)

Picture Source

Monday, August 17, 2009

Phage therapy

It was widely reported that the waters of the rivers Ganges and Junna in India possessed astonishing antibacterial properties. Two enterprising scientists would eventually come to reveal and describe the filterable entities in the waters that could destroy cultures of bacteria. The French-Canadian Felix D'Herelle, a self-taught medical maverick then at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, discovered these bacterial assassins during World War I. British bacteriologist Frederick Twort would independently uncover their existence two years later. Both noticed a puzzling activity that produced clear areas in agar plates that were otherwise cloudy with flourishing bacteria. Something was destroying the bacteria. D'Herelle identified the minuscule marvel as a new type of parasite.

"In a flash I had understood what caused my clear spots was in fact an invisible microbe...a virus parasitic on bacteria," he wrote.

He named it bacteriophage, derived from two Greek words and meaning "bacteria devouring." Over time the word phage emerged as short term for bacteriophage. However, phage therapy proved more difficult than D'Herelle initially hoped for nevertheless, research on this topic continued in some enclaves of the world.

Phage therapy is a medical treatment that "uses bacteriophage viruses to kill the bacteria that are causing an illness or infection." It has had to overcome several obstacles before coming under the scrutiny of the Unites States medical community. Initially it was tried with many success stories for a variety of diseases and human phage therapy has been around for well over a century even ahead of the breakthrough of penicillin.

Early interest in phage therapy can be found among some of the 800 papers that were published on the topic between 1917 and 1956, but the results were disappointingly mixed.

"In some cases, a liquid containing the phage was poured into an open wound. In others, they were given orally, via aerosol, or injected. In some cases, the treatments worked well - in others, they did not." (Science Friday)

At first physicians and entrepreneurs were thrilled with the budding medical implications and leapt into applications with very little understanding of the scientific process or microbiology of phages. Eli Lilly had an active phage-production program in the 1930s. But many of the studies were anecdotal and/or badly controlled; some of the reported triumphs didn't make much scientific sense. Frequently, uncharacterized phages at unknown concentrations were given to patients without specific bacteriological diagnosis, and there were no references to follow ups, controls or placebos.

From Russia with gloves

When antibiotics became conventional therapy for treating illnesses, research largely faded in the West. In addition to the success of antibiotics, phage therapy has had to withstand the general disregard for Russian research and clinical practices. For quite some time Soviet biology was a pretty sad state of affairs, only in the last decade has it begun to get back on its feet. Around the time that phage therapy was emerging in the former Soviet Union a biologist Trofim Denisovich Lysenko suggested that crop yields could be enhanced rapidly by the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

Carl Sagan discusses the aftermath of Lysenkoism in his book The Demon Haunted World and how for three decades Soviet geneticists were forced into useless endeavors, removed from the field of genetics altogether, or castigated for their dissenting views. Outstanding scientists died in jail while crop improvement programs were botched all because Lysenkoism was favored by Soviet dictators.

Lysenko's ideas were greeted with a great deal of fervor. The enthusiasm was due not only to the fact that Lysenko promised immediate improvements of crop yields but also to the fact that Lysenkoism was supported by Josef Stalin, and then Nikita Krushchev. Even though Lysenko gained excessive power in his country his theory was destined to fail because the true mechanisms of genetic inheritance were denied for political reasons. With all genetic research in the former Soviet Union required to conform to Lysenko's Lamarckian views biologists who disagreed with him were either forced out of power or arrested and left to perish in prisons. It wasn't until Krushchev lost power in the mid 60's that Lysenkoism fell out of favor.

Old dogma, new tricks

In spite of the politicizing of genetics, phage therapy remained a successful and effective treatment in the former Soviet Union over the years. Used extensively in many parts of Eastern Europe as a natural part of clinical practice there are companies in Moscow and several other Russian cities today making phage preparations.

    Working independently, George Eliava discovered the minute creatures after collecting specimens from the Mtkvari River, which flows through the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Eliava, head of the city's Central Bacteriology Laboratory, left a slide of river water containing cholera bacteria under a microscope for three days. When he returned, the germs were gone. Eliava surmised that something had destroyed them, and, like d'H'relle, he set about isolating the tiny bacteria killers. Eventually, the Georgian struck up a fruitful collaboration with his French colleague. They worked together at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and later at the Institute of Microbiology, founded in Tbilisi in 1923 and later renamed in Eliava's honor.
The two scientists had forged an innovative therapy by using classic Darwinian adaptation. Like Dark Age monks, the institute struggled to keep their phage library alive during the political upheavals of the time. They meticulously gathered the world's only annals of phages and created combinations of a dozen or more to treat an assortment of bacterial disorders from stomachaches to pneumonia. Phages became a standard pharmaceutical in the USSR.

Since 1923 the Tbilisi Institute of Bacteriophages, Microbiology and Virology has been and still is the main center of research on the most dangerous bacterial strains. For years doctors there have used phages as therapeutic cures for infections ranging from cholera to typhoid fevers. According to various Georgian physicians:

    "Phage therapy is part of the general standard of care there, used especially extensively in pediatric, burn and surgical hospital settings. Phage preparation was carried out on an industrial scale, employing 1,200 people just before the break-up of the Soviet Union. Tons of tablets, liquid preparations and spray containers of carefully selected mixtures of phages for therapy and prophylaxis were shipped throughout the former Soviet Union each day. They generally were available both over the counter and through physicians. The largest use was in hospitals, to treat both primary and nosocomial infections, alone or in conjunction with chemical antibiotics. They played a particularly important role when antibiotic-resistant organisms were found. The military is still one of the strongest supporters of phage therapy research and development, because phages have proven so useful for wound and burn infections as well as for preventing debilitating gastrointestinal epidemics among the troops."
While Soviet medics used the viruses on World War II battlefields, German soldiers with General Erwin Rommel carried phage treatments into a disease-ridden North Africa.

Since the 1940's antibiotics have been so overused, not just in medicine but also to advance the growth of farm animals, that many bacteria have become super bugs that have developed resistance to them. A growing chorus of experts predict that the treatment of diseases may be thrown back to the era before antibiotics when minor diseases were killers. One proposal being studied as a weapon against these super bugs is the use of phage therapy. There are a few drawbacks though. Phages will only target and kill specific bacteria cells that cause certain diseases, but since any given phage only attacks a single bacterium the good news is that it has no effect on human cells. In addition these super bug bacteria find it a great deal more difficult to render phages ineffective by their mutation tactics used against antibiotics.

During the early 1980's Britain and the United States began research applications with phage therapy in animals. The results in general have been very positive and correlate well with the clinical trial in terms of efficacy, safety and the significance of getting the biology of the host-phage interactions documented. This reinforces the confidence of the scientific community in Eastern European results. Many companies have concluded that phage therapy is well worth further study. Quite a few biotechnology companies have been established in the U.S. to expand upon bacteriophage-based treatments -- many of them drawing on the expertise of fellow researchers from Eastern Europe. Research and experiments into phage therapy may provide valuable co- treatments for future chemotherapeutic agents or other antibiotic methods.

Fantastic Phages

Phages are among the simplest organisms on the planet. A milliliter of water can have up to a trillion phage. Carl Merril, chief of the biochemical genetics lab at the National Institute of Mental Health says they flourish anywhere bacteria can survive — in raw sewage, open water, humans and practically anywhere else. About a millionth of an inch in size, a fraction of most bacteria, phages become visible only under an electron microscope. These viruses that prey upon bacteria have a very simple structure - a DNA-filled head attached by a shaft to spidery "legs" that are used to seize the surface of a bacterium. Phage particles look a lot like a lunar lander. Its capsid head contains genetic material coded for the generation of more phage particles. The tail of these "smart weapons" identifies specific bacterial cell types then grips onto a bacterium and inserts its payload of genetic material into the bacterium's insides. The phage genetic material takes over the bacterial cell machinery and codes for the production of more phage. Once the bacterium is coded it starts to quickly manufacture "daughter" copies of the phage -- until the bacterium becomes jam-packed and bursts open, sending hundreds of new and active phage virus to infect other cells.

Antibiotics are either bacteriocidal which means they actively kill bacteria or they are bacteriostatic meaning they impede bacterial processes by halting or slowing growth By modifying their cell components to resist antibiotic interference, preventing uptake of antibiotic, or inactivating antibiotic molecules bacteria gain resistance to antibiotics. Bacteria can divide so quickly that they can create thousands in a matter of hours. As these exponential escalations persist, bacteria release toxins. For the most part the immune system keeps bacterial infections under control, but may be challenged by other diseases or a high load of bacteria. Antibiotics are used to control bacterial infections, but if the antibiotic-resistant bacteria load is high enough they can grow unchecked.

This is where the promise of phage therapy lies. Phages have several advantages over traditional antibiotics. One benefit is that phage multiply exponentially, just like bacteria. For example a small early dose of phage will multiply as it infects cells, lessening the need for continual dosages. Just like bacteria, phage mutates during replication. In effect the same methods that may lead to antibiotic or phage resistant bacteria, can manufacture new phage that can seek out and infect the altered bacteria. Traditional antibiotics wipe out useful bacteria, such as those that help digest food or compete with more dangerous bacteria and the specificity of phage decreases the chance that these useful bacteria are killed when fighting an infection.

More finicky than Morris the Cat.

Referring to the fact that such infections often lead to amputations in the West Elizabeth Kutter the director bacteriophage research at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington notes, "They basically don't cut off feet because of diabetic ulcers in Georgia because their staph phage works so well." At the present time scientists recognize that for phage therapy to be successful the bacteria causing the disease must be isolated, identified and then apply the specific phages that kill them. "A miracle of nature is that there seems to be a bacteriophage for every kind of bacteria," says Michael Shnayerson, co-author of "The Killers Within."

"This emerging alternative to antibiotic therapy is a small step towards nanomedicine therapeutically," says a research scientist for the Zyvex Corp, "after disappointments in early trials. Bacteriophages may be viewed as self-replicating pharmaceutical agents that can consume and destroy pathogenic bacteria when injected into infected hosts. A single E. coli cell injected with a single T4 phage at 37°C in rich media lyses after 25-30 minutes, releasing 100-200 phage particles; if additional T4 particles are added >4 minutes after the first, lysis inhibition is the result and the bacterium will produce virions for up to 6 hours before it finally lyses . Of course, medical nanorobots will not be self-replicating.

Wait a minute! Is this related to the Phage on Star Trek?

The writers of the show haven't developed the story line to that extent, many say no, but some say maybe. For those who may be wondering, the Vidiians are a group of aliens on the television program Star Trek Voyager who are badly affected with a disease called "the Phage." It's portrayed as a quickly progressive, adaptive and highly resistant disease that has laid waste to the Vidiian population. The disease is a necrotizing disease meaning it consumes bodies, obliterating genetic codes and cellular structures quicker than the race's medical science can keep up. Thousands die each day, and the only treatment is to replace organs — usually by harvesting from living victims.Similar to the results of the over used antibiotics leading the the evolution of antbiotic resistant super bugs. Writers could take the storyline of this phage as the consequences of super phage bug assassins run amok as The result could be gray goo or global ecophagy, synonymous terms referring to potential devastation of life caused by rampant bio-nanotechnological machines that break down organic matter to use as raw materials for replicating themselves.

The virus that cures

It's expected to be a slow-acting cure, and there is a long way to go before its use becomes a part of mainstream medicine. Laboratory trials use measured quantities of known bacteria, but real world applications are far more complex. Several concerns about phage therapy are on the horizon. One biomedical research facility lists a number of obstacles that phage therapy is expected to encounter:

  • Pervasive fixation on chemical antibiotics within the clinical establishment;
  • Resistance of the pharmaceutical sector, which is heavily invested in chemical antibiotics;
  • Physicians' reluctance to forego wide-spectrum antibiotics in favor of the highly specific phages;
  • Structural and functional reorganization required for a coordinated and responsive diagnosis-production-administration chain;
  • Pervasive aversion within the biotech research establishment to revert to "archaic" microbiology;
  • Need to constantly adapt and refresh phage preparations in response to pathogen evolution;
  • Delay between clinical presentation and antibacterial administration;
  • General disregard for Russian research and clinical practices;
  • Concerns with bacterial evolution of resistance to phages; and
  • Lack of a regulatory reference basis.
Other experts mention the slender host range of various phages, the question of phage resistance, and the likelihood of phage-mediated transmission of genetic material to bacterial hosts. Phage therapy also faces breaching the chasm of homeopathic and mainstream medicine since many see it as using nature's own cure for the treatment of bacterial infections. With the relatively recent realization that phages have a very narrow host range, success rates of 80-95% have been reported and interest in phage therapy as an alternative to antibiotics is still on the rise in spite of many barriers. A number of companies, in California and Canada are developing phage remedies for bacterial infections in animals and phage sprays to eliminate food-borne pathogens, such as listeria, salmonella and E. coli, which annually kill hundreds of Americans. Intralytix in Palo Alto, CA has authorization from the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate a phage against listeria in a food-processing plant and hopes to have this product on the market soon. While the results of laboratory experiments look very promising, it remains to be seen whether phage can be effective in practice.


Barbelith Underground Microbiological War Zone Kills Bugs Dead

Fight Fire with Fire--using virus to beat antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Hour One: Phage Therapy

How Ravenous Soviet Viruses Will Save the World

Microbivores: Artificial Mechanical Phagocytes using Digest and Discharge Protocol

Phage Therapy as Antibiotics

Picture Source

The Return of the Phage

Tamarin, Robert H. Principles of Genetics, 6th Edition, 1999, pgs 6 - 7 .

Turns of Phrase: Phage therapy

West Recruits Bacteria Assassins

The Word Spy

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cheesy Garlic Bread

This is a super quick recipe. Look for leftover, reduced price bread loaves at the grocery store in the bakery section. This garlic bread is equally delicious with either plain French bread or sourdough. Sourdough is chewier and has a subtle tang that blends ooo la la! seductively with the oil, garlic and cheese. It's good to make several loaves and freeze for an economical side dish or snack in a snap. Make sure to have French bread and grated Parmesan cheese on the shopping list and check to make sure there is butter, garlic and dried parsley on hand. Cheesy Garlic Bread takes about 5 minutes to prepare 15 minutes in the oven and a perfect partner to lasagna, or how about chicken? Substitute white Cheddar cheese for the Parmesan and chopped chives for the parsley!


    1 medium loaf French bread, unsliced.
    ½ Cup Butter or Margarine, softened
    1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
    2 Cloves Garlic
    1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375°. Cut slices down the length loaf at 1 inch intervals, without cutting all the way through. Rub slices and top of loaf with cut sides of garlic halves then mince the garlic. Combine the butter, garlic, parsley and Parmesan cheese in a small bowl. Spread the butter mixture in between the bread slices and on top of the loaf. Wrap the bread in some foil, leaving the top partially uncovered. Bake until heated through, about 15 minutes look for a perfect, bubbling, slightly browned top. Serve it while it's hot! Some helpful hints:Combine the butter, garlic, parsley, and Parmesan cheese as the recipe says. You can make this up ahead of time and store in the refrigerate for up to three days. Soften at room temperature before using. For easier peeling, microwave un peeled garlic cloves for 10 to 20 seconds. Cool and store un peeled cloves in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. To satisfy the real cheese lovers in my family I use sliced provolone cheese in place of the grated Parmesan. yum!