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Beer's bitter compounds could help brew new medicines

Researchers employing a century-old observational technique have determined the precise configuration of humulones, substances derived from hops that give beer its distinctive flavor.

That might not sound like a big deal to the average brewmaster, but the findings overturn results reported in scientific literature in the last 40 years and could lead to new pharmaceuticals to treat diabetes, some types of cancer and other maladies.

"Now that we have the right results, what happens to the bitter hops in the beer-brewing process makes a lot more sense," said Werner Kaminsky, a University of Washington research associate professor of chemistry.

Kaminsky is the lead author of a paper describing the findings, published this month in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

There is documentation that beer and its bittering acids, in moderation, have beneficial effects on diabetes, some forms of cancer, inflammation and perhaps even weight loss.

Kaminsky used a process called X-ray crystallography to figure out the exact structure of those acids, humulone molecules and some of their derivatives, produced from hops in the brewing process. That structure is important to researchers looking for ways to incorporate those substances, and their health effects, into new pharmaceuticals.

Humulone molecules are rearranged during the brewing process to contain a ring with five carbon atoms instead of six. At the end of the process two side groups are formed that can be configured in four different ways both groups can be above the ring or below, or they can be on opposite sides.

Which of the forms the molecule takes determines its "handedness," Kaminsky said, and that is important for understanding how a particular humulone will react with another substance. If they are paired correctly, they will fit together like a nut and bolt.

If paired incorrectly, they might not fit to

Contact: Vince Stricherz
University of Washington

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