Plants found in ancient pills offer medicinal insight
DNA extracted from 2,000-year-old plants recovered from an Italian shipwreck could offer scientists the key to new medicines.
Carrots, parsley and wild onions were among the samples preserved in clay pills on board the merchant trading vessel that sank around 120 BC. It's believed the plants were used by doctors to treat intestinal disorders among the ship's crew.
Such remedies are described in ancient Greek texts, but this is the first time the medicines themselves have been discovered.
"Medicinal plants have been identified before, but not a compound medicine, so this is really something new," says Alain Touwaide, director of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, which has the world's largest digital database of medical manuscripts.
Prof Touwaide is working with scientists at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, who carried out the DNA analysis. They discovered traces of carrot, parsley, alfalfa, celery, wild onion, radish, yarrow and hibiscus contained in the ancient pills...
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