Tuesday 10 September 2019

Moulds in Medicine

CAPE TIMES – 1933, August 17

Messrs. O. E. May & H. T. Herrick of the United States Bureau of Chemistry, with a bed of growing mould used in producing chemicals for the treatment of disease. While the mould is growing it is kept covered with the screen which is shown raised in the picture.
Moulds, those uninviting and distasteful fungus growths of green that form on some foods as evidence of decay, have been discovered to be very healthful and now occupy a wide and useful field in the science of medicine, chemistry and industry.
Two chemists of the United States Bureau of Chemistry, Horace T. Herrick and Orville E. May, have found that mould is generally healthful. Of equal interest is the fact that mould occurs in a thousand different forms, several of which are applicable to business and industry. They have also discovered that various forms of mould, however deadly and disgusting they may look, when properly controlled are useful in promoting human happiness and health.
Mould is so all-pervading that it cannot be easily avoided even in the diet. You breathe mould without knowing it. When you tear off the tinfoil on a piece of yeast, you are preparing to eat a solid cake of mould. If you are a lover of good cheese, your Roqueford and Camembert will introduce you to forms of mould every time you indulge your appetite.
Mould has been discovered by these chemists as a powerful industrial aid. When the ore engineer attempts to duplicate Nature’s simple production, he takes acres of ground, tons of machinery, and the productive labour of hundreds of men.
Nature accomplishes it in the stem of a plant or the leaf of a tree or a bit of mould. Moulds do not sleep on the job; they work in 24-hour shifts. All they need, is an infinitesimal quantity of the proper food, a comfortable home in an evenly warm climate and protection from common enemies.
Moulds are being found useful for a wide variety of things, due to their ability to perform complex chemical engineering. Colouring matters, sugars, starches, fats and alcohols are among the products, as well as their production of citric acid from dextrose.
The process of putting moulds to work in producing gluconic acid, use in the making of expensive calcium salt with highly important medical qualities such as benefited the King when he was critically ill not long ago, was discovered by these two Washington scientists. By the use of moulds the salt is reduced in cost from 150 dollars a pound to 50 cents a pound. At that time, they were hunting for moulds that would produce tartaric acid. After they had examined 149 moulds the 150th unexpectedly produced the desired results. By producing chemical, calcium gluconate, mould has proved an unexpected medical ally in the treatment of calcium deficiency in the blood. Those suffering from this cause are constant consumers of mould.
It is believed that calcium gluconate, when fed to high-producing hens which lay thin-shelled eggs, may have a marked effect in thickening the shells. It is believed that the textile and tanning industries will also make use of this gluconic acid.
Chemists of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in their experiments found that moulds have sex. It was not previously known that there were male and female moulds. In these fundamental studies looking toward the production of mould on large scale there is a mould room with various dishes. One contains a piece of stale bread which is quite obscured by a luxuriant growth of black mould. In another is an old book, musty and mouldy, bound in leather. Still other dishes hold bits of cooked rice, gelatin, cake and others. These are all well covered with mould. The development of mould life is extraordinarily rapid. In the bread mould there are tiny, threadlike growths of separate cells. The threads sometimes grow from two to four inches and when conditions are right, from 15 to 18 inches.
At the free end of the threadlike filament, there are seen round swellings about the size of a pin head. These contain enormous numbers of a minute reproductive body, known as spores. At room temperature, when the air is moist, a spore germinates. It has been found that certain species may reproduce more than 70 000 spores from the original spore. Spores are so light, wafted about as they are on the slightest breath of air, that they are found nearly everywhere. Some scientists believe that spores were the first form of life on the earth. It is thought that they may have come through space, pushed along by the pressure of light waves.
There is rapidly developing many wide uses for moulds. Industrial fermentation produced by moulds embraces three operations which have widely different purposes, such as the use of mould to produce a substance hitherto found only in natural products, the use of mould to dispense with complicated and costly chemical reactions and the use of a living mould as a chemical reagent.

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