Sunday, March 9, 2014

Yeast From Ancient South American Tomb -- Alive and Well in Taiwan!

An interesting case for microbiology archaeology!  When I started to read this article, I was immediately reminded of "Jurassic Park" and the unintended consequences that sprang from the fictional bringing ancient species back to life.  Check out the second half of the article, where a similar sentiment is examined.

I have to say, based upon the description of how this fermented drink is often made even today, I don't think I'd ever drink it.  Eeeeeuuuuuuwwwww!  The only "someone else's spit" I want in my mouth (other than my own) is when I'm kissing a hunky man. 

From Scientific American Online

Raising the Dead: New Species of Life Resurrected from Ancient Andean Tomb
Ecuadorian scientists have revived a new species of yeast from pre-Incan tomb, illuminating prehistoric life
Chicha Morada.  Source.  The same as
Chicha Morocho? 
1.    Boil two liters of water
2.    Mix the morocho corn flour in one half liter of water and mix with the two liters of boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes.
3.    Boil two liters of water and add the herbs, orange tree leaves, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. Cook for 10 minutes and strain out liquid.
4.    Combine the water–corn mix with the water–herb mix. Strain and add the pineapple skin.
5.    Ferment for one day.
6.    Check the consistency of the drink and add more water as needed. Add the brown sugar and white sugar until sweetened to taste. Add ice and serve.
(Translated by Claudia Alderman)

Global yeast?
Recalling of the movie Jurassic Park, one wonders about the potential dangers of reviving an ancient pathological microbe that could produce a modern plague. "There exists the possibility," he says, but Carvajal thinks that these species have been living with man for thousands of years." Indeed, that suspicion proved to be true.

Simultaneously, on the other side of the globe two cases of bottled tea were found clouded with contamination in 2010. The manufacturer sent the bottles to Ching-Fu Lee at the National Hsinchu University of Education, one of the few yeast taxonomists in Taiwan. He identified the contaminant as a new species of Candida and began to write a paper describing his discovery.

During the peer review process, the anonymous reviewer suggested that Lee check the National Institutes of Health GenBank database. There he found the genetic sequence of the new species of Candida that Carvajal had recovered from the ancient fermentation vessel. Lee immediately contacted Carvajal, along with the latter's collaborator Stephen James, a yeast taxonomist at the Institute of Food Research in England, and the three teams of scientists jointly published their paper in the February issue of the International Journal of Food Microbiology.

But how did the identical yeast turn up simultaneously in Taiwan and Quito? "I don't think this is a beverage-related yeast, I think it is a human-related yeast," Carvajal says. "We know now that there were contacts between Polynesians and South American peoples. [Polynesians] departed from Taiwan 6,000 years ago."

Carvajal cites the example of another new yeast he has discovered, C. fodens, to buttress his argument. The yeast was collected in Australia, Costa Rica and Ecuador's Galápagos Islands. Genetic analysis shows that the yeast from all three Pacific locations are identical. "It is very hard to imagine that such a distance was covered by one single strain," he says. "This yeast is tightly associated with the flowers of the sweet potatoes. This probably has some relation with human migration, because we know that sweet potatoes come from the Andes. We are using yeasts to track human migration and contacts. That is part of what we call 'microbiological archaeology.'"

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