by Maddie Stone | Gawker Media
Feb 20, 2016, 02.30 AM IST
The post-antibiotic future sounds terrifying, but here’s one upside you didn’t imagine: swilling Viking crunk juice to stay alive. New research suggests that mead, the vitality drink of gods and berserkers alike, was a potent medicine in ancient times. And with science, we can make it even better.
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“A few hundred years ago, people only lived to be 30 or 40 years old,” Tobias Olofsson, a microbiologist at Lund University in Sweden told Gizmodo. “If you had something to prevent infections, you could live much longer.”
Olofsson believes that something was honey wine. His groundbreaking research shows that bacteria found naturally in honey can fight off some of the toughest drug-resistant infections. Now, through his university-backed startup ConCellae, he’s leading an effort to develop a probiotic mead with the same medicinal properties.
The earliest archaeological evidence for mead-making dates back to the 7th century BC in China. But some experts think people have been getting inebriated off honey for far longer. “I personally believe humans have known how to ferment honeys since they left Africa,” Ken Schramm, the mead-maker who wrote the definitive modern guide on honey wine, told Gizmodo. Schramm, along with many archaeologists, speculates that our hunter-gatherer ancestors discovered mead accidentally, when tasting naturally fermented honey in beehives, or by adding honey to rotten fruit as a preservative.
“What they were getting is a living medicine”
While the origins of mead reman elusive, there’s no doubt our ancestors associated the drink with health and long life. In ancient Greece, mead was the drink of the gods, sent to Earth from the heavens as dew. Odin, the Norse god of healing and battle, was said to have gained his strength by suckling mead from a goat as a baby. And Viking warriors who reached Valhalla would be rewarded with draughts of the stuff, delivered by beautiful maidens. “It was the life-giving liquid across the ancient world,” Schramm said.
But it wasn’t until recently that researchers began asking whether our age-old obsession with mead’s healing properties might have a scientific basis.
That’s where Olofsson’s research comes in. For the last decade, he’s been studying a collection of microorganisms-so-called “lactic acid bacteria,” or LABs-that live inside the honeybee’s crop, a special stomach devoted to nectar collection. These bacteria are a living factory of medicine, exuding a suite of suite of antimicrobial compounds that target and kill pathogens. In 2014, Olofsson published a study showing that honey inoculated with thirteen LABs could treat chronic, antibiotic-resistant wounds in horses. In the lab, the same microbial cocktail eliminates deadly human pathogens, including the notoriously drug-resistant MSRA.