January 31, 2013

Once Again, Beer Saves The World

When stripped to its most basic elements, beer is mostly a simple concoction of water, grains, hops and yeast. Yet, the end product of beer is actually the result of many delicate chemical reactions between these ingredients. The yeast turns the sugars from the grain into alcohol and the hops impart a bitter flavor while acting as a antibacterial agent to protect the beer during its transformative period. At its most basic level, beer is simply the delicious result of science. At its most complicated level, beer is damn near a miracle beverage, quite literally responsible for keeping humans alive for centuries.

Today, researchers from the beer loving state of Washington have discovered something else wonderful that occurs during the brewing process. According to Werner Kaminsky, a University of Washington research associate professor of chemistry, the way hop molecules change during the brewing process could lead other researchers to one day create better drugs to treat diabetes. As it stands now, some elements in the bittering hops in beer may have “beneficial effects” on not only diabetes, but cancer and even weight loss, or so suggests professor Kaminsky.

“Now that we have the right results, what happens to the bitter hops in the beer-brewing process makes a lot more sense,” said Kaminsky in a statement.

The real find here is the way these hop molecules change and align. By observing this change, scientists are now rethinking the previous way they understood this movement.

As it’s explained in statement, (which is incredibly in depth for a study about beer) when hops go through the brewing process, little acids called “humulones” are created, and it’s the formation these acids take that are causing some researchers to rethink the way they create medicines.

For example, molecules are oriented in specific ways. To make this easier to understand for regular old Jane and Joe Six Packs, scientists use a right hand and left hand analogy.

So, for two molecules to get along well enough together, they need to have a left hand and a right hand. Otherwise, things don’t go very well and, in the case of medicines, people can become very sick. Professor Kaminsky uses the example of a popular medicine in the 1950s and 60s often used to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. However, studies later found that these molecules sometimes had the same “hands,” which resulted in some cases of birth defects.

“Now that we know which hand belongs to which molecule, we can determine which molecule goes to which bitterness taste in beer,” Kaminsky said.

Which is all just a long way of saying that molecules are finicky things, but thanks to beer, we understand them a little better. Now, thanks to beer, smarter people can begin finding better drugs for diabetes. Now, thanks to beer, we’ll all be healthier and happier people.

Kind of makes you want to grab a frosty cold can of your favorite beer and toast your local brewmaster, no?

Image Credit: Photos.com

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