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Ancient Green Beer Contained Antibiotics

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Alexander Fleming's dodgy cleaning habits helped him discover penicillin in 1928. The bacteriologist was cleaning Petri dishes when he noticed mold growing on staphylococcus (staph) bacteria. The mold, Penicillium notatum, killed the staph around it and Fleming realized he stumbled on a treatment for bacterial infections. Fleming's discovery revolutionized medical practices, but researchers found that he wasn't the first to accidentally discover antibiotics. Ancient Nubians regularly drank antibiotics in their beer more than 2,000 years ago.

In 1963 George Armelagos, a biological anthropologist, and some colleagues uncovered Nubian mummies. The Nubians lived between 350 AD and 550 AD in modern Egypt and Sudan. Armelagos began peering into microscopes to examine Nubian bones and understand osteoporosis, when he noticed the mummies exhibited high levels of tetracycline, an antibiotic once used to treat cholera, but not available until 1950. (Now, it is mostly prescribed to treat acne.) He was curious why there were such high levels of the antibiotic and thought it came from contamination. He took bone samples and asked a lab to dissolve them, extracting tetracycline. He found that the Nubians consumed so much of the drug that remnants lingered in their bones. This was no freak contamination. (The image at left, taken under UV light, shows the tetracycline on the bones—the green is the tetracycline.)

Armelagos discovered that grain stored underground became moldy with Streptomyces, which produces tetracycline. High heat from baking bread, for example, would kill the small amounts of it. But fermenting the grains would promote rapid growth of tetracycline—Nubians prepared gruel and beer with fermented grains. Armelagos found that beer drinking started young and discovered traces of tetracycline in babies from mothers' breast milk. Armelagos suspects that the Nubians realized the beer and gruel made them feel better but had little idea why.

Some of Armelagos' students made a home-brewed beer with Strep bacteria, like the Nubian brew. It tastes sour and looks green (perfect for St. Patrick's Day and Strep throat). Don't worry about ingesting extra antibiotics when drinking beer, though—most beers undergo pasteurization, killing bacteria.

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The Delicious Chemistry of Sushi
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iStock

The secret to sushi's delicious taste is invisible to the human eye. Chefs spend years training to properly prepare the Japanese culinary staple, which consists of fresh fish and seasoned rice, either served together or wrapped in seaweed. At its most elemental, as the American Chemistry Society's latest Reactions video explains below, the bite-sized morsels contain an assortment of compounds that, together, combine to form a perfectly balanced mix of savory and sweet. They include mannitol, iodine, and bromophenol, all of which provide a distinctive tang; and glutamate, which adds a savory, rich umami flavor (and turns into MSG when it's combined with a sodium ion).

Take a bite of science, and learn more fun facts about the Japanese culinary staple's long history and unique preparation method by watching the video below.

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Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder
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Fossilized Poop Shows Some Herbivorous Dinosaurs Loved a Good Crab Dinner
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Lead author Karen Chin of the University of Colorado Boulder
Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder

Scientists can learn a lot about the prehistoric world through very, very old poop. Just recently, researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder and Kent State University studying fossilized dinosaur poop discovered that some herbivores weren't as picky about their diets as we thought. Though they mostly ate plants, large dinosaurs living in Utah 75 million years ago also seem to have eaten prehistoric crustaceans, as Nature News reports.

The new study, published in Scientific Reports, finds that large dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous period seem to have eaten crabs, along with rotting wood, based on the content of their coprolites (the more scientific term for prehistoric No. 2). The fossilized remains of dinos' bathroom activities were found in the Kaiparowits rock formation in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a known hotspot for pristine Late Cretaceous fossils.

"The large size and woody contents" of the poop suggest that they were created by dinosaurs that were well-equipped to process fiber in their diets, as the study puts it, leading the researchers to suggest that the poop came from big herbivores like hadrosaurs, whose remains have been found in the area before.

Close up scientific images of evidence of crustaceans in fossilized poop.
Chin et al., Scientific Reports (2017)

While scientists previously thought that plant-eating dinosaurs like hadrosaurs only ate vegetation, these findings suggest otherwise. "The diet represented by the Kaiparowits coprolites would have provided a woody stew of plant, fungal, and invertebrate tissues," the researchers write, including crabs (Yum.) These crustaceans would have provided a big source of calcium for the dinosaurs, and the other invertebrates that no doubt lived in the rotting logs would have provided a good source of protein.

But they probably didn't eat the rotting wood all year, instead munching on dead trees seasonally or during times when other food sources weren’t available. Another hypothesis is that these "ancient fecal producers," as the researchers call them, might have eaten the rotting wood, with its calcium-rich crustaceans and protein-laden invertebrates, during egg production, similar to the feeding patterns of modern birds during breeding season.

Regardless of the reason, these findings could change how we think about what big dinosaurs ate.

[h/t Nature News]

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