Brewing Beer From An Ancient Whale Bone
Captain Ahab's Revenge: Brewing Beer From An Ancient Whale Bone
Amateur paleontologist and beer lover Jason Osborne organizes fossils in the basement lab of the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Md., last month.
What happens when an amateur paleontologist with a love for beer teams up with a microbiologist? Bone beer, or beer made from yeast scraped from a 35-million-year-old whale fossil, to be precise.
The new brew, dubbed Bone Dusters Paleo Ale, is a concoction created by amateur fossil hunter Jason Osborne of Paleo Quest, a nonprofit paleontology and geology advocacy group, and microbiologist Jasper Akerboom of the Lost Rhino Brewing Company in Ashburn, Va.
Like many scientific innovations, Bone Dusters came to Osborne late one night while he was drinking a beer.
Osborne was hunched over his desk, studying ancient whale bones he'd collected on an underwater expedition, when he took a sip and began to ponder how beer has yeast — an organism that transforms sugar into alcohol — and yeast can be found almost anywhere. His gaze shifted from his glass to his fossil.
"I thought, even though this is dead, there's got to be things living on it," he tells The Salt.
And an idea began to brew.
Osborne enlisted his friend Akerboom to swab the fossil and a dozen more from the basement drawers of the Calvert Marine Museum in Maryland. Akerboom, a former research specialist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, didn't think the prehistoric bones could sustain yeast's appetite.
But in the name of science and great beer, he swabbed away. The results, he said, surprised him. While most fossils failed to create suitable yeast, Akerboom found one that fermented.
What he discovered was a wild yeast subspecies, which the pair named Saccharomyces cerevisiae var protectus, after the yeast's host, protocetid whale "Eocetus wardii," an early whale ancestor that Osborne had described in a 2011 paper in the journal BioOne.
The whale was a prehistoric beast that had hind legs, molars and canine-like teeth. Scientists say it may have been amphibious, dwelling on both land and water.
To retrieve the fossils, Osborne went 30 feet down into a Virginia swamp wearing full scuba gear and equipped with a type of crab cage. Down there, the violent water rushed past him like hurricane winds, he says. It was an "extreme sport for science."
"It's such a high risk," Osborne says. "But the yield of return is super awesome."
In this case, that yield is not just millions-of-years-old fossils, but bone beer.
Akerboom says that the yeast is probably not nearly as old as the fossil it was scraped from, but he believes that it came from the swamp that the bones were found in. And it behaves in mysterious ways.
"The fermentation is so strange. It stops and then continues. That's something we haven't seen before, not from our brewing strains," says Akerboom.
Read More here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/201...ent-whale-bone