Seeds Of Life: Secrets Of The Soil

Matthew Murray and his family never imagined they'd find hope treating his bone cancer with a drug derived from dirt.

"This is your latest blood count and it just couldn't be better," Dr. Paul Richardson tells Murray.

Richardson, a doctor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, is testing the remarkable anti-cancer properties found in soil bacteria. Combined with a more conventional drug, it's proving to boost the powers of both.

So despite weakened bones and fatigue, this combo-drug has freed him to do some heavy lifting -- he's even training for a triathlon.

"Every day, every week is an opportunity to just hang in there until the next drug comes," says Murray.

Scientists are looking for that next drug on the land and in the sea, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller. Already, 60 percent of all cancer drugs come from some source of plant, fungus or living organism and the potential for even more is astronomical.


Miller Blogs: Seeds Of Life In The Soil
"Trillions of microbial species are out there," according to David Newman.

At the National Cancer Institute's repository in Maryland, Newman has spent a lifetime collecting and freezing some 80,000 organisms. He lends them to researchers across the globe in hopes they'll find a magic bullet.

"They could hold the secrets to a very large number of treatments to a very large number of diseases," he says.

At New York's Botanical Garden, Dennis Stevenson believes plants hold the secret of potential cures.

The prehistoric cycad, for example, has lived for millions of years despite the fact it injects a deadly toxin into its own system which should kill it.

"But it doesn't," Stevenson says. "So it has a genetic repair mechanism against a toxin or genetic prevention."

Plants and people share about 70 percent of the same genes. So if we can figure out how plants protect themselves, we may be able to use that knowledge to cure ourselves.

And that's exactly what Matthew Murray is hoping for: that Mother Nature's blueprint will give him a second chance at life.