The Berkeley Pit, Butte MT
Paraphrasing an old song title, “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places,” two University of Montana chemists, Andrea A. Stierle and Donald B. Stierle, have been looking for useful compounds in what many might consider the wrong place—the Berkley Pit—an open pit copper mine in Butte, Montana that was closed years ago. It is one of the most toxic waste sites in the U.S., 1.5 miles east/west and one mile north/south in diameter. The pit is 1,780 feet deep, with very acidic water that continues drain into the pit at a rate measured in 2005 of 2.55 million gallons per day. This water is contaminated with all sorts of toxic chemicals such as arsenic, copper, cadmium, cobalt, iron, manganese, zinc, and sulfate, plus other inorganic substances.
Nevertheless, some fungi and bacteria have found a happy medium (chemically-speaking) in the Berkley Pit waters. The Montana U. scientists have been analyzing the unusual products from these living creatures for more than 20 years. Among other discoveries is a cancer-killing fungus called Taxomyces andreanae and some other substances that can produce organic chemicals capable of affecting inflammatory and aging qualities.
In one case, the Stierle’s cultured two types of Penicillin fungus found in the waters and found a completely new substance produced by the culture,
, (research published in J. Nat. Prod. 2017, DOI:
v) with antibiotic capabilities of treating some strains of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), previously believed to be resistant to most antibiotics, plus anthrax, strep throat and candida yeast infections.
Given the glacial slowness of FDA approval (unless spurred on by major pharmaceutical interests), it could be years before substances like this from hazardous waste sites become available as new miracle drug, but it is interesting that even in the deadliest environments on Earth, some benefits can be found.
Publications of Interest
In what sounds like a worthy follow-up to Dr. Jerome Groopman’s classic
How Doctors Think
¸ Dr. Danielle Ofri has published an interesting title:
What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear
. As described in a lengthy review in the British medical journal, Lancet, this book has some useful information for patients:
“For all the sophisticated diagnostic tools of modern medicine, the conversation between doctor and patient remains the primary diagnostic tool.” This idea lies at the heart of Danielle Ofri’s new book What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear, in which she acknowledges, dissects, experiments with, and analyses the complexities and miscues of the patient–doctor exchange.”