Copyright 1997 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Special DNA process helped scientists find Gulf
Garth and Nancy Nicolson for the past three years have
used a gene tracking process to identify an invasive bacterial agent in
the blood of many sick Gulf War veterans. Known as Mycoplasma fermentans,
the bacterium eludes identification through other medical procedures,
Garth Nicolson said.
If the procedure’s accuracy and effectiveness are confirmed, the next step will be for the Army to sponsor an epidemiologial study of Gulf War veterans, possibly as early as this summer, Garth Nicolson and Smith said.
The process devised by the Nicolsons involves examination
of microscopic gene strands found in the center, or nuclei, of individual
white blood cells. In their laboratory the Nicolsons isolate nucleoproteins
from the nucleus of a cell, then examine the individual genes, which are
tightly attached to the proteins.
“In addition, critical nucleoproteins are often thrown out in the isolation procedures to obtain DNA.”
Analyzing blood samples of sick Gulf War veterans, the Nicolsons not only found Mycoplasma fermentans in nearly half the sick veterans they tested, but also discovered indications that it was genetically altered.
Garth Nicolson said he found in the blood samples a solitary gene found in the HIV-1 virus that is the precursor to AIDS.
“If there had been an infection by the HIV-1 virus, there would be several other genes present, but were not,” Nicolson said.
The solitary gene embedded in the Mycoplasma fermentans does not exist in nature, he said. “Although not conclusive, we have evidence for biological agent exposures.”
Because Mycoplasma fermentans –unlike other bacteria- does not have a cell wall and contains receptors for attachment to different cells, it is able to invade blood cells and tissue cells throughout the human body, Garth Nicolson said.
Most of the mycoplasma agent invades tissue rather than blood cells, requiring and extraordinary sensitive detection process to confirm its presence in blood samples.
“The good news is that this type of infection responds to certain antibiotics,” he said.
“Gulf War illness patients that test positive for Mycoplasma fermentans are slowly recovering from their illness after multiple cycles of antibiotic therapy.”