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DNA analysis performed on shipwreck medicines

DNA extracted from pills found on a 2,000-year-old Italian shipwreck may offer up new medical insights.

“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.

The pills, which researchers believe were diluted with vinegar or water to make them easier to ingest, were preserved inside tin boxes and were the size of coins.

“I was always wondering if the texts were only theoretical notions without practical application,” he says. “Now we know they were applied.”

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Story: Jane O’Brien, BBC News | Photo: BBC News

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