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Did toxic bacteria kill Alexander?

According to scientists, Alexander the Great might have died of a deadly bacterium in the Styx River, the legendary gateway to the underworld.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2010 16:13 IST

Scientists are claiming that a deadly bacterium in the Styx River, the legendary portal to the underworld, may have ended Alexander’s life.

An extraordinarily toxic bacterium harboured by the ‘infernal’ Styx River might have been the fabled poison rumoured to have killed Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) more than 2,000 years ago, according to a scientific-meets-mythic detective study.

According to the study, calicheamicin, a secondary metabolite of micromonospora echinospora, is what gave the river its toxic reputation. It was the Styx where gods swore sacred oaths. “If they lied, Zeus forced them to drink the water, which struck them down. The 8th-century BC Greek poet Hesiod wrote that the gods were unable to move, breathe or speak for one year,” Discovery News quoted co-author Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar at Stanford University’s Departments of Classics and History of Science, as saying. The researchers believe this mythic poison must be calicheamicin.

“This is an extremely toxic, gram-positive soil bacterium and has only recently come to the attention of modern science,” author Antoinette Hayes, toxicologist at Pfizer Research, said.

First Published: Jul 21, 2010 14:30 IST