[Northkeep] Ancient Brewmasters Made Medicinal Beer

RockMeAmadeo at gmail.com RockMeAmadeo at gmail.com
Tue Sep 7 08:15:13 PDT 2010


Ancient Brewmasters Made Medicinal Beer

In 1980, a scientist looking at bone fragments under an ultraviolet  
microscope noticed the bones were glowing green—a hallmark of the  
antibiotic tetracycline. The drug latches onto calcium and gets deposited  
in bone. Nothing unusual. Except these bones were from a Nubian mummy  
buried 1,600 years ago in Sudan—long before scientists discovered  
tetracycline, in 1948.

At the time, other scientists said the antibiotic probably just  
contaminated the bones after death. Because tetracycline's secreted by a  
soil bacterium, Streptomyces. To get to the bottom of this, a chemist  
recently took bone from the mummy of a Nubian child and dissolved it in  
hydrogen fluoride, a nasty acid that helps extract tetracycline. And this  
bone extract also matched the chemical signature of tetracycline—evidence  
that the antibiotic was built into the kid's bones as he grew. That  
analysis appears in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. [Mark  
Nelson et al, http://bit.ly/dsgY56]

Anthropologists know the Nubians were skilled brewers. Researchers now  
believe that the ancient brewmasters learned to purposely make their beer  
medicinal, by lacing it with grain contaminated with antibiotic-producing  
Streptomyces bacteria. Just imagine that prescription.

—Christopher Intagliata

More information about the Northkeep mailing list