Ancient Nubians Drank Antibiotic-Laced Beer

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A group of people who lived nearly 2,000 years ago in Sudanese Nubia
took doses of tetracycline -- through their beer.

THE GIST
Human use of antibiotics began not 80 years ago, but nearly 2,000
years ago along the banks of the Nile River.
Those ancient people got tetracycline out of fermented grain that they
used to brew beer.
Everyone drank the antibiotic-laced beer often, starting as early as
age two.
 

People have been using antibiotics for nearly 2,000 years, suggests a
new study, which found large doses of tetracycline embedded in the
bones of ancient African mummies.

What's more, they probably got it through beer, and just about
everyone appears to have drank it consistently throughout their
lifetimes, beginning early in childhood.

While the modern age of antibiotics began in 1928 with the discovery
of penicillin, the new findings suggest that people knew how to fight
infections much earlier than that -- even if they didn't actually know
what bacteria were.

Some of the first people to use antibiotics, according to the
research, may have lived along the shores of the Nile in Sudanese
Nubia, which spans the border of modern Egypt and Sudan.

"Given the amount of tetracycline there, they had to know what they
were doing," said lead author George Armelagos, a biological
anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta. "They may not have
known what tetracycline was, but they certainly knew something was
making them feel better."

Armelagos was part of a group of anthropologists that excavated the
mummies in 1963. His original goal was to study osteoporosis in the
Nubians, who lived between about 350 and 550 A.D. But while looking
through a microscope at samples of the ancient bone under ultraviolet
light, he saw what looked like tetracycline -- an antibiotic that was
not officially patented in modern times until 1950.

At first, he assumed that some kind of contamination had occurred.

"Imagine if you're unwrapping a mummy, and all of a sudden, you see a
pair of Ray Ban sunglasses on it," Armelagos said. "Initially, we
thought it was a product of modern technology."

His team's first report about the finding, bolstered by even more
evidence and published in Science in 1980, was met with lots of
skepticism. For the new study, he got help dissolving bone samples and
extracting tetracycline from them, clearly showing that the antibiotic
was deposited into and embedded within the bone, not a result of
contamination from the environment.

The analyses also showed that ancient Nubians were consuming large
doses of tetracycline -- more than is commonly prescribed today as a
daily dose for controlling infections from bad acne. The team reported
their results in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

They were also able to trace the antibiotic to its source: Grain that
was contaminated with a type of mold-like bacteria called
Streptomyces. Common in soil, Strep bacteria produce tetracycline
antibiotics to kill off other, competing bacteria.

Grains that are stored underground can easily become moldy with
Streptomyces contamination, though these bacteria would only produce
small amounts of tetracycline on their own when left to sit or baked
into bread. Only when people fermented the grain would tetracycline
production explode. Nubians both ate the fermented grains as gruel and
used it to make beer.

The scientists are working now to figure out exactly how much
tetracycline Nubians were getting, but it appears that doses were high
that consumption was consistent, and that drinking started early.
Analyses of the bones showed that babies got some tetracycline through
their mother's milk.

Then, between ages two and six, there was a big spike in antibiotics
deposited in the bone, Armelagos said, suggesting that fermented
grains were used as a weaning food.

Today, most beer is pasteurized to kill Strep and other bacteria, so
there should be no antibiotics in the ale you order at a bar, said
Dennis Vangerven, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado,
Boulder.

But Armelagos has challenged his students to home-brew beer like the
Nubians did, including the addition of Strep bacteria. The resulting
brew contains tetracycline, tastes sour but drinkable, and gives off a
greenish hue.

There's still a possibility that ancient antibiotic use was an
accident that the Nubians never knew about, though Armelagos has also
found tetracycline in the bones of another population that lived in
Jordan. And VanGerven has found the antibiotic in a group that lived
further south in Egypt during the same period.

Finding tetracycline in these mummies, said VanGerven, was "surprising
and unexpected. And at the very least, it gives us a very different
time frame in which to understand the dynamic interaction between the
bacterial world and the world of antibiotics."

http://news.discovery.com/archaeology/antibiotic-beer-nubia.html
Re: Ancient Nubians Drank Antibiotic-Laced Beer
A group of people who lived nearly 2,000 years ago in Sudanese Nubia
took doses of tetracycline -- through their beer.

THE GIST
Human use of antibiotics began not 80 years ago, but nearly 2,000
years ago along the banks of the Nile River.
Those ancient people got tetracycline out of fermented grain that they
used to brew beer.
Everyone drank the antibiotic-laced beer often, starting as early as
age two.
 

People have been using antibiotics for nearly 2,000 years, suggests a
new study, which found large doses of tetracycline embedded in the
bones of ancient African mummies.

What's more, they probably got it through beer, and just about
everyone appears to have drank it consistently throughout their
lifetimes, beginning early in childhood.

While the modern age of antibiotics began in 1928 with the discovery
of penicillin, the new findings suggest that people knew how to fight
infections much earlier than that -- even if they didn't actually know
what bacteria were.

Some of the first people to use antibiotics, according to the
research, may have lived along the shores of the Nile in Sudanese
Nubia, which spans the border of modern Egypt and Sudan.

"Given the amount of tetracycline there, they had to know what they
were doing," said lead author George Armelagos, a biological
anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta. "They may not have
known what tetracycline was, but they certainly knew something was
making them feel better."

Armelagos was part of a group of anthropologists that excavated the
mummies in 1963. His original goal was to study osteoporosis in the
Nubians, who lived between about 350 and 550 A.D. But while looking
through a microscope at samples of the ancient bone under ultraviolet
light, he saw what looked like tetracycline -- an antibiotic that was
not officially patented in modern times until 1950.

At first, he assumed that some kind of contamination had occurred.

"Imagine if you're unwrapping a mummy, and all of a sudden, you see a
pair of Ray Ban sunglasses on it," Armelagos said. "Initially, we
thought it was a product of modern technology."

His team's first report about the finding, bolstered by even more
evidence and published in Science in 1980, was met with lots of
skepticism. For the new study, he got help dissolving bone samples and
extracting tetracycline from them, clearly showing that the antibiotic
was deposited into and embedded within the bone, not a result of
contamination from the environment.

The analyses also showed that ancient Nubians were consuming large
doses of tetracycline -- more than is commonly prescribed today as a
daily dose for controlling infections from bad acne. The team reported
their results in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

They were also able to trace the antibiotic to its source: Grain that
was contaminated with a type of mold-like bacteria called
Streptomyces. Common in soil, Strep bacteria produce tetracycline
antibiotics to kill off other, competing bacteria.

Grains that are stored underground can easily become moldy with
Streptomyces contamination, though these bacteria would only produce
small amounts of tetracycline on their own when left to sit or baked
into bread. Only when people fermented the grain would tetracycline
production explode. Nubians both ate the fermented grains as gruel and
used it to make beer.

The scientists are working now to figure out exactly how much
tetracycline Nubians were getting, but it appears that doses were high
that consumption was consistent, and that drinking started early.
Analyses of the bones showed that babies got some tetracycline through
their mother's milk.

Then, between ages two and six, there was a big spike in antibiotics
deposited in the bone, Armelagos said, suggesting that fermented
grains were used as a weaning food.

Today, most beer is pasteurized to kill Strep and other bacteria, so
there should be no antibiotics in the ale you order at a bar, said
Dennis Vangerven, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado,
Boulder.

But Armelagos has challenged his students to home-brew beer like the
Nubians did, including the addition of Strep bacteria. The resulting
brew contains tetracycline, tastes sour but drinkable, and gives off a
greenish hue.

There's still a possibility that ancient antibiotic use was an
accident that the Nubians never knew about, though Armelagos has also
found tetracycline in the bones of another population that lived in
Jordan. And VanGerven has found the antibiotic in a group that lived
further south in Egypt during the same period.

Finding tetracycline in these mummies, said VanGerven, was "surprising
and unexpected. And at the very least, it gives us a very different
time frame in which to understand the dynamic interaction between the
bacterial world and the world of antibiotics."

http://news.discovery.com/archaeology/antibiotic-beer-nubia.html


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