Navigation Links
Ancient brew masters tapped antibiotic secrets
Date:9/2/2010

A chemical analysis of the bones of ancient Nubians shows that they were regularly consuming tetracycline, most likely in their beer. The finding is the strongest evidence yet that the art of making antibiotics, which officially dates to the discovery of penicillin in 1928, was common practice nearly 2,000 years ago.

The research, led by Emory University anthropologist George Armelagos and medicinal chemist Mark Nelson of Paratek Pharmaceuticals, Inc., is in the current issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

"We tend to associate drugs that cure diseases with modern medicine," Armelagos says. "But it's becoming increasingly clear that this prehistoric population was using empirical evidence to develop therapeutic agents. I have no doubt that they knew what they were doing."

Armelagos is a bioarcheologist and an expert on prehistoric and ancient diets. In 1980, he discovered what appeared to be traces of tetracycline in human bones from Nubia dated between A.D. 350 and 550, populations that left no written record. The ancient Nubian kingdom was located in present-day Sudan, south of ancient Egypt.

Armelagos and his fellow researchers later tied the source of the antibiotic to the Nubian beer. The grain used to make the fermented gruel contained the soil bacteria streptomyces, which produces tetracycline. A key question was whether only occasional batches of the ancient beer contained tetracycline, which would indicate accidental contamination with the bacteria.

Nelson, a leading expert in tetracycline and other antibiotics, became interested in the project after hearing Armelagos speak at a conference. "I told him to send me some mummy bones, because I had the tools and the expertise to extract the tetracycline," Nelson says. "It's a nasty and dangerous process. I had to dissolve the bones in hydrogen fluoride, the most dangerous acid on the planet."

The results stunned Nelson. "The bones of these ancient people were saturated with tetracycline, showing that they had been taking it for a long time," he says. "I'm convinced that they had the science of fermentation under control and were purposely producing the drug."

Even the tibia and skull belonging to a 4-year-old were full of tetracycline, suggesting that they were giving high doses to the child to try and cure him of illness, Nelson says.

The first of the modern day tetracyclines was discovered in 1948. It was given the name auereomycin, after the Latin word "aerous," which means containing gold. "Streptomyces produce a golden colony of bacteria, and if it was floating on a batch of beer, it must have look pretty impressive to ancient people who revered gold," Nelson theorizes.

The ancient Egyptians and Jordanians used beer to treat gum disease and other ailments, Armelagos says, adding that the complex art of fermenting antibiotics was probably widespread in ancient times, and handed down through generations.

The chemical confirmation of tetracycline in ancient bones is not the end of the story for Armelagos. He remains enthused after more than three decades on the project. "This opens up a whole new area of research," he says. "Now we're going to compare the amount of tetracycline in the bones, and bone formation over time, to determine the dosage that the ancient Nubians were getting."


'/>"/>

Contact: Beverly Clark
beverly.clark@emory.edu
404-712-8780
Emory University
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Modern genetics vs. ancient frog-killing fungus
2. Genetic based human diseases are an ancient evolutionary legacy
3. 6,000km trip to reveal clues to ancient migration
4. Dry spells spelled trouble in ancient China
5. Ancient magma superpiles may have shaped the continents
6. Ancient African exodus mostly involved men, geneticists find
7. Male crickets with bigger heads are better fighters, study reveals, echoing ancient Chinese text
8. Decline of carbon-dioxide-gobbling plankton coincided with ancient global cooling
9. University of Leicester archaeologist uncovers evidence of ancient chemical warfare
10. Mountain caribous ancient ancestry revealed
11. Ancient geologic escape hatches mistaken for tube worms
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:5/20/2016)... May 20, 2016  VoiceIt is excited to ... VoicePass. By working together, VoiceIt and ... VoiceIt and VoicePass take slightly different approaches to ... both security and usability. ... this new partnership. "This marketing and ...
(Date:4/28/2016)... BANGALORE, India , April 28, 2016 ... subsidiary of Infosys (NYSE: INFY ), and Samsung ... global partnership that will provide end customers with a ... and payment services.      (Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130122/589162 ... for financial services, but it also plays a fundamental part ...
(Date:4/15/2016)... 2016  A new partnership announced today will ... decisions in a fraction of the time it ... high-value life insurance policies to consumers without requiring ... Force Diagnostics, rapid testing (A1C, Cotinine and HIV) ... pressure, weight, pulse, BMI, and activity data) available ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)... 27, 2016 /PRNewswire/ - BIOREM Inc. (TSX-V: BRM) ("Biorem" or ... its major shareholders, Clean Technology Fund I, LP and ... based venture capital funds which together hold ... a fully diluted, as converted basis), that they have ... entire equity holdings in Biorem to TUS Holdings Co. ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... N.C. (PRWEB) , ... June 27, 2016 , ... ... commercial operations for Amgen, will join the faculty of the University of ... as adjunct professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler, with a focus ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... (PRWEB) , ... June 24, 2016 , ... While the ... such as the Cary 5000 and the 6000i models are higher end machines that ... the height of the spectrophotometer’s light beam from the bottom of the cuvette holder. ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... TORONTO , June 23, 2016 /PRNewswire/ - ... Ontario biotechnology company, Propellon ... the development and commercialization of a portfolio of ... cancers. Epigenetic targets such as WDR5 represent an ... contribute significantly in precision medicine for cancer patients. ...
Breaking Biology Technology: