Beer IS good for you! [or Antibiotics: good for what ale’s you]

Nubian Pharaohs Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Nubian Pharaohs Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Famously, stor­ies abound that cer­tain sports­men have had their beer drink­ing endorsed by med­ical pro­fes­sion­als
(http://​www​.tele​graph​.co​.uk/​n​e​w​s​/​o​b​i​t​u​a​r​i​e​s​/​1​4​1​9​7​0​6​/​B​i​l​l​-​W​e​r​b​e​n​i​u​k​.​h​tml) as a form of medi­cine. Apocryphal (a euphem­ism for ‘prob­ably not true’) as those mod­ern tales may be, a dis­cov­ery about the ancient art of brew­ing sug­gests there may a grain of truth in such accounts. The anti­bi­otic tet­ra­cyc­line (http://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​T​e​t​r​a​c​y​c​l​ine) has been iden­ti­fied in human skeletal remains of Sudanese Nubians from the period 350–550 ce (that’s ad in ‘old money’) by Mark Nelson et al. (American Journal of Physical Anthropology 143: 151–154, 2010). What’s the beer con­nec­tion? Well, it can be con­jec­tured that those ancient brew­mas­ters delib­er­ately used cer­eal grain infec­ted by Streptomyces (a bac­terium that pro­duces tet­ra­cyc­line) to make their beer both nour­ish­ing and medi­cinal. Reflecting on the fact that since the anti­bi­ot­ics were found in skel­et­ons, from dead people, one might won­der if the tet­ra­cyc­line actu­ally worked. Or per­haps it did, but the quant­it­ies of beer that had to be con­sumed in order to deliver enough of the medi­cine were suf­fi­cient to cause death from other causes? It all gets hor­ribly com­plic­ated. And, not wish­ing to add to the con­fu­sion caused by the dif­fer­ent dat­ing abbre­vi­ations, the art­icle itself is actu­ally a BC (Brief Communication).

Health warn­ing: not all microbe-infected cer­eals are good for you; those infec­ted with ergot or Aspergillus may actu­ally be harm­ful! You have been warned.

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

3 Responses

  1. beer brands says:

    Regarding this art­icle i has to state let’s rejoice hav­ing a glass of guin­ness, and this par­tic­u­lar day could begin simply excellent!

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