Toothache? Scientists find Neanderthals used antibiotics and aspirin too

This photo provided by Paleoanthropology Group MNCN-CSIC shows an El Sidron upper jaw. This individual was eating poplar, a source of aspirin, and had also consumed molded vegetation including Penicillium fungus, source of a natural antibiotic. (AP)
Updated 09 March 2017
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Toothache? Scientists find Neanderthals used antibiotics and aspirin too

PARIS: Nearly 50,000 years before the invention of penicillin, a young Neanderthal tormented by a dental abscess ate greenery containing a natural antibiotic and pain killer, analysis of his teeth revealed Wednesday.
The male, who lived in El Sidron in what is now Spain, ate an antibiotic fungus called Penicillium and chewed on bits of poplar tree containing salicylic acid — the active ingredient of modern-day aspirin, researchers said.
The youngster’s fossilized jawbone reveals the ravages of an abscess, and his dental plaque contained the remnants of an intestinal parasite that causes acute diarrhea, “so clearly he was quite sick,” they wrote in the journal Nature.
“Apparently, Neanderthals possessed a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, and seem to be self-medicating,” said study co-author Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide’s Australian Center for Ancient DNA (ACAD).
“Certainly, our findings contrast markedly with the rather simplistic view of our ancient relatives in popular imagination,” he added.
The study is the latest to recast our long-extinct cousins, long thought of as thick-skulled and slow-witted, in a more positive light.
Other recent findings have started to paint a picture of Neanderthals as sophisticated beings who made cave art, took care of the elderly, buried their dead and may have been the first jewelers — though they were probably also cannibals.
In 2012, a study in the journal Naturwissenschaften said Neanderthals appeared to have used medicinal herbs such as yarrow and chamomile.
Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East for up to 300,000 years but appear to have vanished some 40,000 years ago.
This coincided more or less with the arrival of homo sapiens out of Africa, where modern humans emerged some 200,000 years ago.


Neanderthals and homo sapiens interbred, leaving a small contribution of less than two percent to the DNA of all humans except for people from Africa, where Neanderthals never lived.
For the latest study, an international team did a genetic analysis of DNA trapped in the dental plaque of four Neanderthals — two from Spy Cave in Belgium and two from El Sidron.
Calcified plaque preserves the DNA of microorganisms that lived in the mouth, windpipe and stomach, as well as bits of food stuck between teeth — which can later reveal what a creature ate and what its state of health was.
From the oldest plaque ever to be genetically analyzed, the team concluded the Belgian Neanderthals ate a diet of woolly rhino, wild sheep and mushrooms, living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
“Those from El Sidron Cave, on the other hand, showed no evidence for meat consumption, but appeared instead to have a largely vegetarian diet comprising pine nuts, moss, mushrooms and tree bark,” Cooper said in a statement.
El Sidron at the time was in a densely forested environment, added the study’s lead author Laura Weyrich, also from ACAD.
“In contrast, the Spy Neanderthals were living in a steppe-like environment, so it’s easy to picture large, beastly animals wandering around as a major source of food,” she told AFP.
The sick Spanish Neanderthal was the only one with traces of poplar or Penicillium in his dental plaque.
mlr/pcm/kjl


Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

Updated 17 April 2018
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Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

  • Previous research has shown a new blood test has potential to detect eight different kinds of tumors before they spread
  • The research starts in April and will run until September

TOKYO: A Japanese firm is poised to carry out what it hailed as the world’s first experiment to test for cancer using urine samples, which would greatly facilitate screening for the deadly disease.
Engineering and IT conglomerate Hitachi developed the basic technology to detect breast or colon cancer from urine samples two years ago.
It will now begin testing the method using some 250 urine samples, to see if samples at room temperature are suitable for analysis, Hitachi spokesman Chiharu Odaira told AFP.
“If this method is put to practical use, it will be a lot easier for people to get a cancer test, as there will be no need to go to a medical organization for a blood test,” he said.
It is also intended to be used to detect paediatric cancers.
“That will be especially beneficial in testing for small children” who are often afraid of needles, added Odaira.
Research published earlier this year demonstrated that a new blood test has shown promise toward detecting eight different kinds of tumors before they spread elsewhere in the body.
Usual diagnostic methods for breast cancer consist of a mammogram followed by a biopsy if a risk is detected.
For colon cancer, screening is generally conducted via a stool test and a colonoscopy for patients at high risk.
The Hitachi technology centers around detecting waste materials inside urine samples that act as a “biomarker” — a naturally occurring substance by which a particular disease can be identified, the company said in a statement.
The procedure aims to improve the early detection of cancer, saving lives and reducing the medical and social cost to the country, Odaira explained.
The experiment will start this month until through September in cooperation with Nagoya University in central Japan.
“We aim to put the technology in use in the 2020s, although this depends on various things such as getting approval from the authorities,” Odaira said.