Posts Tagged ‘antibacterial’

Antibiotic beer, as drunk by the ancient Nubians

// September 8th, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Drugs, Recent Research

Image by Peter Trimming

Today’s schooner of science is literally science in a schooner. Plus it comes with a new career path – bioarcheologist, expert in ancient diets.

George Armelagos is the bioarcheologist in question, and he’d been studying the ancient Nubians who lived just south of ancient Egypt in present-day Sudan.

George was looking at some bones and found evidence that they had been exposed to tetracycline, an antibiotic. Tetracycline is absorbed into bone, and fluoresces green. It’s sometimes used to measure bone growth – take tetracycline at day 0, again at day 12, and at day 21 take a biopsy. The distance between the two green lines will show how far the bone grew in 12 days.

Anyhoo, tetracycline in bones from 350-550 AD is weird, seeing as we first invented antibiotics with the discovery of penicillin in 1928. Now we find out the ancient Nubians beat us to it, and as with all great ideas they came up with it over a beer.

The grain they used to ferment the beer contained streptomyces bacteria, which produces tetracycline as a kind of germ warfare. Like penicillin comes from a fungus, tetracycline is made by a bacteria. It’s a bad-ass antibacterial that can treat disease like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and pneumonia which are caused by bacteria. It can even kill Yersinia pestis cause of the black plague.

Were the ancient Nubians drinking it by accidental contamination, intentional medication, or did streptomyces bacteria just grew on the corpses?

To find out they needed (da dada dum!) a CHEMIST! This particular hero was Mark Nelson, who dissolved the bones in some hardcore hydrogen fluoride – “the most dangerous acid on the planet,” according to Mark. Woah. After showing the bones who was boss, Mark mass spec’d the shizz out of them and discovered a metric buttload of tetracycline, confirming that it was ingested and in high quantities.

The scientist duo concluded that this was a brew with a purpose – an antibiotic alcoholic. Even the bones from a four year old child contained a lot of tetracycline, perhaps he was given the antibacterial to cure a disease.

My question is, why are WE not taking our antibiotics in beer? That would be SO much better!

ResearchBlogging.orgNelson ML, Dinardo A, Hochberg J, & Armelagos GJ (2010). Brief communication: Mass spectroscopic characterization of tetracycline in the skeletal remains of an ancient population from Sudanese Nubia 350-550 CE. American journal of physical anthropology, 143 (1), 151-4 PMID: 20564518

World’s sweetest antibiotic? The five ways honey kills bacteria.

// July 13th, 2010 // 5 Comments » // Drugs, How Things Work, Recent Research, Science at Home

HoneyYou’re at the doctors with a suspected infection, but instead of offering penicillin or erythromycin, they prescribe honey. Would you switch toast toppings? Take a honey pill? How about letting the doctor smear medical grade honey over the infected area?

People have been using honey (not mad honey) as medicine since ancient times, but until now we have never fully understood how it works. Research lead by Dr. Paulus Kwakman from the University of Amsterdam and his team have finally identified the key elements which give honey its antibacterial activity.

Bacteria are becoming resistant to drugs faster than we’re developing them. Honey might help because it works when other drugs don’t. Studies show it has good activity in vitro against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. An older study reports successful treatment of a chronic wound infections not responding to normal medicine.

So how does it work? It’s a combination of five factors.

1. Hydrogen peroxide, a kind of bleach. The honey enzyme called glucose oxidase makes hydrogen peroxide when honey is diluted with water. We clean toilets with bleach, and it’s pretty good at killing bacteria.

2. Sugar. Honey has so much sugar there’s hardly any water for bacteria to grow in.

3. Methylglyoxal (MGO), an antibacterial compound found in New Zealand Manuka honey a couple of years ago. It’s also found in medical grade honey which is made in controlled greenhouses, albeit in smaller amounts.

4. Bee defensin 1, a protein found in royal jelly (special food for queen bee larva.) This report is the first time bee defensin 1 has been identified in honey, and it works as an antibiotic.

5. Acid. Diluted honey has a pH of around 3.5, the acidic environment slows down bacterial growth.

These five things work together to provide a broad spectrum activity against bacteria. For example, S. aureus is vulnerable hydrogen peroxide, while B. subtillis is challenged only if MGO and bee defensin 1 are working simultaneously. Honey has the right mix for maximum destruction.

So that’s how bees keep their honey fresh and unspoiled by bacterial growth. Perhaps with this information we’ll create enhanced honey to guard against infection, improving on nature like we did with penicillin. Until then, I know what I’m having on my toast.

A Schooner of Science could be named Australia’s best science blog. If you enjoyed reading, please vote for me.

ResearchBlogging.orgKwakman, P., te Velde, A., de Boer, L., Speijer, D., Vandenbroucke-Grauls, C., & Zaat, S. (2010). How honey kills bacteria The FASEB Journal, 24 (7), 2576-2582 DOI: 10.1096/fj.09-150789






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