Another Reason to Throw a Tea Party

A look at some current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin.
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In this fearful era of bioterrorism, when memories of the 2001 anthrax scare are stirred by the recent discovery of ricin in a Las Vegas hotel room, perhaps it would be best if we all just relaxed and had a spot of tea. At least, that's the conclusion of an international team of researchers, who found that the humble cuppa could well prove an antidote to Bacillus anthracis — or anthrax.

The study, which appeared in the March issue of Microbiologist, was led by professor Les Baillie of the Welsh School of Pharmacy at Cardiff University and Dr. Theresa Gallagher of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute in Baltimore. Their research showed that common English breakfast tea — the same kind that's available on your supermarket shelves — has the potential to inhibit the activity of anthrax.

The medicinal properties of tea have long been lauded, especially in Great Britain, where 165 million cups are consumed every day. A 2004 article in New Scientist highlighted the anti-cancer properties of green tea, which has also been recommended as a therapy for diabetes, HIV and bad breath.

And now anthrax, which is deadliest to humans when its bacterial spores are inhaled, giving the disease a worrisome potential as a biological warfare agent. "Our research sought to determine if English breakfast tea was more effective than a commercially available American medium roast coffee at killing anthrax," Baillie said. "We found that special components in tea, such as polyphenols, have the ability to inhibit the activity of anthrax quite considerably."

But take note: The addition of whole milk completely reversed the antibacterial activity against anthrax, so in the event of a bioterror attack, it would be best to serve your guests black tea.

"Given the ability of tea to bring solace and steady the mind, and to inactivate Bacillus anthracis and its toxin, perhaps the Boston Tea Party was not such a good idea after all," Baillie concluded.

And You Worry about Drinking Water ...
So the Brits' tea is safe in the event of a bioterror attack, but Americans have other things on their minds: Namely, what about our beef jerky?

Road-trippers, you can rest easy: Scientists have figured out a way to keep E. coli and salmonella out of the nation's beef jerky supply.

Two researchers from Kansas State University, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, surveyed small-scale production plants in several states to uncover the "worst-case" processing scenario for beef jerky (a terror-inducing thought in itself), which is made by heating and drying a batter that consists of beef and whatever they mix it with to make jerky. The researchers then recreated this worst-case scenario in a dedicated smokehouse, inoculating the raw batter with pathogens and cooking the jerky for the requisite seven hours.

The researchers found that the cooking reduced the salmonella to required levels but didn't kill off the E. coli. So the Kansas State researchers experimented further and presented their solution: an extra hour and a half of drying at 68 degrees Celsius.

"Really, the adjustments we're suggesting are minor and will enhance the safety of jerky for the consumer," said Kelly Getty, one of the researchers. And let's be honest: There's really no such thing as jerky that's too dry.

Occam's Razor says, "Um, because it became available? And we were hot?"
The paper "Explaining the Spread of Residential Air Conditioning, 1955-1980" by Jeff Biddle of Michigan State University appears in the March issue of the journal Explorations in Economic History.

And finally, the last word ...
"Many people think that animals sense atmospheric changes. You always get stories about Rover going bananas right before an earthquake. But until Rover learns to tell us what he's barking about, we won't be able to employ animals in any predictive way." — Michael Wysession, Ph.D., seismologist at Washington University in St. Louis

Have a cocktail-napkin idea to pass along? E-mail us at theeditor@miller-mccune.com.

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