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May 30, 2006

What do beer and vaccines have in common?


What do beer and viruses have in common? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Luci Levesque from Augusta, Maine, heard that vaccines are made in fermenters, devices normally associated with beer. She asks, what’s the connection? We turned to microbiologist Agnes Day of Howard University College of Medicine.

AGNES DAY (Howard University College of Medicine):
The principle of using a fermenter is the same for beer as it is for vaccine production.

She tells us that a fermenter is simply a device that grows microorganisms on a large scale. In beer, those microorganisms are the yeast that convert sugars into alcohol. But in vaccine production, they are disabled versions of the disease-causing bacteria or viruses that will ultimately form the basis of the vaccines.

If you have a science question, call us at 1-800-why-isit. If we use it on the air, you’ll win a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.