Each Shot of Mezcal Contains a Little Bit of DNA From the "Worm"

By Smriti Rao | February 17, 2010 10:05 am

Mezcal_bottlesThe next time, you’re taking shots straight out of a bottle of mezcal, the potent Mexican alcohol made from the agave or a maguey plant, remember what you’re drinking. Swirling in your mouth is not just the strong smoky alcohol guaranteed to knock you out, but also caterpillar DNA from the “worm” that is often found at the bottom of the bottle.

The worm is actually the larval form of the moth Hypopta agavis that lives on the agave plant and really has no business being in the bottle except to serve as a marketing gimmick. Still, many a drinker has set out to prove his iron will and iron stomach by swallowing the booze-soaked insect at the bottom. Turns out there’s no need for such dramatic gestures. Researchers have found that DNA from the caterpillar can be extracted from the alcohol it’s preserved in.

Ars technica reports on the scientists findings:

“We hypothesized that DNA from a preserved specimen can leak into its preservative medium, allowing the medium itself to be directly PCR amplified” the authors write. “We successfully tested this idea on mezcal—the alcoholic beverage famous for the ‘worm’ (a caterpillar) that is placed in the bottle of many brands—and indeed obtained amplifiable quantities of caterpillar DNA.”

This is great news for researchers trying to extract DNA samples from old specimens preserved in alcohol. Now, they don’t have to take pieces from a crumbling specimen and risk destroying it in the bargain, but can instead use the preservative liquid to obtain and sequence DNA. The scientists, however, warned that different specimens should not be placed in the same jar, as residual DNA would all swirl together.

So no mixing worms, snakes, and scorpions.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Caterpillars Beware: Parasitic Wasps Come in a Wide Variety
NCBI ROFL: NCBI ROFL: Lost in the sauce: the effects of alcohol on mind wandering

Image: Wikimedia

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • Chris

    man i love science, but sometimes it is just gross.

  • Another Adam

    What if the drink was subjected to radiation and some unlucky person drank it. The DNA would fuse to theirs and they would becom “Boozeworm.” The continually intoxicated crime fighter.

  • http://www.Drinkboy.com Robert Hess

    This article unfortunately presents the information incorrectly. It says:

    “…from the “worm” that is often found at the bottom of the bottle”

    Where the use of “often” implies that a worm will be found in the bottom of a majority of Mezcal bottles. This is absolutely not the case. The only Mezcals which resort to that gimmick are the cheap “tourist” brands, which are far outnumbered by the quality products coming out of the small batch and craft distillers throughout Mexico. Many of the Mezcals available are far better products than the “popular” Tequilas on the market today.

  • http://ilegalmezcal.com/ Stephen Myers

    To understand the process of mezcal production and its close ties to the tradition and culture of Oaxaca visit http://ilegalmezcal.com/ . Ilegal produces a Joven, Reposado and Anejo (all without the worm) all of which are fine sipping liquors.

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