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VOICEOVER: Coming up on Catalyst,
could these bottles - salvaged from a 200-year-old
shipwreck - still contain yeast to brew the
world's oldest beer? And how unboiling an egg technology led to new discoveries
in renewable energy.

I think I'm more excited
about this trip than anything I've filmed
in a long time. For the last six months,
I've been in secret discussions with a team of scientific
treasure hunters who set out to try something they
didn't actually think would work. But now, they might just
have cracked it, and here we are, ready to tell the story.

It's an epic tale of adventure,
shipwreck, death, beer, the beginnings
of European settlement in Australia, salvage, and science. It's also the story of a group
of researchers attempting to pull off a world first. And if they succeed,
we're going to taste something that was last sipped on these shores
over 200 years ago.

The world's oldest beer.

The story begins
here in Launceston, Tasmania, with this man - David Thurrowgood -
and a shipwreck. DAVID: This is the rudder.
It's huge. This is to give you
an idea of the scale of the boat that these people were on. This is the Queen Victoria Museum's
star attraction.

Treasures from the 200-year-old wreck
of the early trader, the Sydney Cove. There's leather shoes,
ceramics from China.

But it was what
lay behind the scenes...

..that stunned David,
a chemist turned conservator, when he joined the museum
18 months ago. This is where
the whole story begins. These are the 220-year-old bottles, recovered from
the bottom of the ocean.

Astonishingly, one of these bottles
was still intact, and actually appeared to have
liquid inside - unheard of for a shipwreck this old.

So, at that point,
I was getting really excited.

In addition to the bottle
were two other samples which had been carefully decanted
and preserved at the time of the wreck's salvage
20 years ago.

So that gave us a chance
to possibly have access to the oldest beer in the world. And we're pretty sure that
the contents of that bottle is the oldest beer in the world. And that sparked a wild imagining - could there be live yeast in there? One day, I thought, "We might be
able to culture that yeast "and re-create beer that hasn't
been on the planet for 220 years." What he didn't know at the time was that no-one
has ever achieved this.

But this story is all about venturing
into the unknown. That's how the beer ended up
at the bottom of the ocean in the first place.

It's 1796. The European colony of Sydney has
been going for just eight years, and it's still pretty precarious, dependent on supplies
from the intermittent visits of British military ships -
particularly for beer. Beer was critically important
at that time. Soldiers and sailors were actually
told to drink beer instead of drinking anything else -
the water was considered toxic. So, an enterprising group
based out of Calcutta decides to repurpose
a small Indian trading ship and attempt their first
commercial trip to the new colony.

Off they set from Calcutta, down to the great southern land, and smack into some of
the biggest swells on earth.

By all accounts,
it was a horrendous journey. As they hit the southern coast,
the boat springs a leak, which means the crew have to
man the bilge pumps 24/7. And then gale-force winds turn into what the captain describes in
his journal as a "perfect hurricane."

Crawling around the southern tip
of Tasmania, they spring an even bigger leak.

Sinking fast, there's no choice
but to run it aground.

The island they hit
was a small outcrop in a group now known
as Furneaux Islands, just north of mainland Tasmania. And that's where we're headed now,
to Preservation Island.

Mike Nash is the marine archaeologist
who excavated the wreck. So, this is where they came ashore... They did. The wreck's...
..in 1797. The wreck's just out there. Pretty scary. Well, it was because they
had no chance of being rescued.

With the ship's longboat, they managed to bring ashore much
of the cargo from the upper decks, despite being stricken with scurvy. So, the captain writes
that only about half the crew could actually work at one time.

They were 800km from Sydney, with no real chance of being spotted. So, Captain Hamilton selects
the 17 healthiest men to tackle the daunting task of
attempting to get word to the colony in just a tiny longboat.

They make it as far as the
southern coast of Victoria, and wreck again. There's no choice
but to walk all the way to Sydney. Of the 17 men who set out, only three are left alive
when they finally limp into Sydney and get word to the governor.

I mean, it's a hell of a story. Oh, it is. It's got everything. It's got everything but pirates.
Exactly. (LAUGHS)

The story, like the wreck,
sat forgotten for centuries, until 1990, when a young marine
archaeologist, Mike Nash, decided to salvage. I mean,
one of the surprises on the wreck was how well the organic
material survived. So, we get things like rope
from the rigging, leather shoes, there was tobacco, and obviously the bottles of alcohol that still had, you know,
material in them. Why was it so well preserved here? What happened was that the wreck
sort of sunk into the sand a bit, but actually then seagrass
grew over the top of it, so it virtually sealed everything in
and it stayed that way for the, you know, 200 years,
until it was actually found. The salvage became this fabulous
exhibit, which brings us to 2015, to when David Thurrowgood joined
the museum and wondered, "Could there be any live yeast
in those bottles?" I was very hopeful, I have to say. Perhaps because
I'm not a biochemist. I thought, "Wow, I can see yeast.
We can make beer," straightaway. Brimming with optimism,
in November 2015, David contacted several
top scientists and got an abrupt reality check. Sceptical. Very sceptical. Especially when he was talking
about getting live yeast out of these samples. Didn't think there was any chance
it was ever going to work. With good reason. No-one in the world has ever reliably recovered live
yeast from a beer bottle this old. Some experts doubt beer yeasts
survive longer than 10. Jumping back 200 years
was extraordinary, and really, you need
extraordinary evidence to back up how that might occur. The opportunity was too good
to pass up, to not try. So, I couldn't bear it
if someone else... If we said no, someone else
tried it, and it worked. So, we got in there
and gave it a good shot.

In December 2015, they got cracking.

Here, at the Centre for Ancient DNA
in Adelaide, the one precious unopened bottle was taken into their
highly-sterilised clean room for sampling. The only way that we were going to
be able to validate what was inside
these ancient bottles was to take an unopened one, because as soon as you open
an ancient sample, there's so many myriad contaminants. My heart was in my mouth
when we first introduced the syringe and took the sample,
because I thought, "Oh, no, it's going to be clear.
It's going to be seawater."

The rest of the main action
took place here, at the Australian
Wine Research Institute. It was yeast specialist
Anthony Borneman and his colleague Simon's job
to find the yeast, if there was any, and, if at all possible, culture it. Just want to come through, this
is our constant temperature room. This is where
we grow all the yeast strains. The room of hope.
The room of hope, yes. We hope it will grow.
Exactly, exactly. So, sort of every day, you come in
and have a look at your plates, have at your cultures -
are they growing, are they not?

But it soon became
the room of fading hope.

Nothing grew. Nothing. Most disappointingly,
that all-important unopened bottle from the Centre for Ancient DNA turned out to be a complete dud. Sadly, the liquid that was in that
bottle wasn't actually beer. Maybe caster oil.
Maybe something else. But not beer.

Then one day,
Anthony walked into the room of hope and saw that two of the samples
had come to life. I was genuinely shocked. My first reaction -
and I think Simon's too - was, "Do it again." And then
I think after the second time, the reaction was, "Do it again."

So, it was two or three times before
we could confidently say, "Look, these two samples
repeatedly grew yeast." The two samples
were from the Tassie wreck - a single bottle of beer that was decanted 20 years ago
into two flasks, and stored in different parts
of the museum. The fact that they were both yielding
yeast was encouraging. Then, under the microscope,
Anthony saw this... OK, so what we've got here, Jonica, we've got two different types
of yeast, at least. We've got these spherical ones,
which are Saccharomyces yeast - a brewer's yeast. We have this other sort, this other
little oblong guy here, which is a Brettanomyces yeast, another yeast that's associated
with brewing as well. Really?
So, these are all brewer's yeasts? All yeasts that can be
associated with beer. Exactly.

If you look at modern
commercial brewing, they generally use a single
species of yeast in sealed vats. But back in 1790,
beer was brewed in an open barrel, and you might get up to
20 different kinds of yeast. So, the fact there
were multiple strains of brewer's yeast in this sample
was really promising. You know, it's a sort of
smoking gun at that point that these were beer yeasts
coming out of the beers. So, we were in a good shot of them
being the real deal. It could still have been
the result of contamination, though. Brewer's yeasts are common. To know more, they needed to
wait on a detailed DNA analysis, which would take some weeks.

Meanwhile, the yeast -
exact origins still unknown - was sitting there,
so they decided to brew some beer. Hey.
You ready to do some home-brewing? Absolutely.

Now that's a home brewery.
This is it. So, why did you choose this recipe? This recipe is chosen
because it's an English beer. It's probably not too unlike what
they would have made, back 200 years ago. First thing we need is malt extract. Smells like the beginning of beer. Parisian essence. Very savoury. So, this is the food for the yeast,
right? Absolutely. All we need now is the magic
ingredient, which is our yeast. So, this is the yeast that
we isolated from the museum samples, the beer samples. Would you like to do the honours
with that one? Absolutely.

Our shipwreck yeast, of course,
is what ferments the beer and creates alcohol. So, there we go. Four weeks, it'll be beer.
We'll be enjoying it.

In March 2015, the DNA results
Anthony had been anxiously awaiting came through,
with the last thing he ever expected. I had to stare at it for a while. Yeah,
just to see exactly what was there. They had a Saccharomyces
brewing yeast alright, but it was like nothing
he'd ever seen before. It seemed to be a brand-new to
science Saccharomyces hybrid, and it was in both samples. I couldn't believe it.
I really couldn't believe it. Scientists are very reserved, and Anthony was very
excited on that day, and he kept saying on the phone
that this is just not something we find floating around
in the environment. And when Anthony placed it
on the Saccharomyces family tree, he saw this... So, they don't fit
with modern ale yeast. What they do come in close to
on the family tree are other strains that have been
associated with beer, in one way or another
over the years. The one strain we've got
the most information for, that they're close to on the tree,
is used to make Trappist ale - the ale that the monks used to make
in Belgium. And don't forget the other yeasts
in the sample - the Brettanomyces, or Bretts. Bretts are not used
in modern commercial brewing because they add a rankish taste. But in old-style open brewing,
they were everywhere. It kind of fits that these
things are from...from beer. (THUNDER BOOMS) But right at the height
of their excitement, the good ship Project Old Yeast
hit its own stormy seas - dissension in the group. Problem is we've got
a 20-year black hole between when the bottle was
originally opened, decanted. The chain of custody,
as we'd term it in a forensics case, is nonexistent. You know,
somewhere in that 20-year window, anything could have happened. So, under those circumstances,
it becomes very, very difficult to actually claim that
we've got any proof. Without the clean room evidence, Alan
is sceptical it isn't contamination, especially given no-one has ever
retrieved yeast near this old. Could this really be the first time? I'd like to believe that, I really
would, because it would be so great. But it so challenges what
we see everywhere else that I don't think
I can really get too excited yet. But both Anthony and David struggle
with the alternative hypothesis - that it's contamination. So, we've got two samples,
same bottle. Decanted 20 years ago
and then kept apart. So either there was a very specific
contamination event 20 years ago, when they brought that bottle up, so that when they decanted it
into the two samples, both samples
got equally contaminated with our hybrid Saccharomyces strain and our beer-brewing
Brettanomyces strains, and then they were locked away
for 20 years, and both stayed viable
for those 20 years, or the strains were in the bottle. There's just too many
coincidences that add up.

There's only way to settle this
once and for all - they go back to the wreck,
dig deeper, and salvage more bottles, then send them straight to the lab. On that, they all agree. Actually getting the material
direct, clean, guaranteed - because if so, I mean, this result
then would be quite remarkable.

If they have managed to revive
a yeast from this star-crossed shipwreck, and use it to re-create possibly
the world's oldest beer, it's a phenomenal achievement. And half the team are convinced
already that's what they've done.

We think we've got a yeast which hasn't been seen
for at least 220 years.

But in the meantime,
there's one more crucial test - does it make good beer? Are you nervous about it?
I am a bit nervous. Hey. The shipwreck brew is ready, and we're finally gathering here
in Launceston for a beer tasting. Ta-da! (LAUGHS)
Wow, look at that. That's beautiful. Cheers!
ALL: Cheers!

Tastes like beer.
Tastes like beer. (LAUGHS) It's good. We're all a bit stunned, actually,
at just how good it does taste. So, has anyone
thought about a name for this beer? What are we going to call it? I think Bitter End.
(LAUGHS) I've come up with a name.

Preservation Ale
from Preservation Island. It is just possible
they've done the impossible and brought to life
the world's oldest beer.

Cheers.

VOICEOVER: Once an egg's boiled,
you can't unboil it. Right? Well,
it turns out you can unboil an egg.

And this is using technology
that we have developed. But why would you want to
unboil an egg? Believe it or not,
the fundamental science that went into unboiling the egg has led us
into a number of applications, and this is all about
clean, green technology, biodiesel
for solar cell applications. This is the start of a lot
of exciting possibilities with this technology.

The eureka moment
for Colin's egg unboiling technology happened one night on a flight
from Los Angeles to Sydney. And it was during that flight that I was trying
to solve a particular problem and started drawing the plans.

I knew I was on to something
really, really good.

The vortex fluidic device - the VFD - solved the problem Professor Raston
was working on, which was to find a new way
to experiment in the field of microfluidics - the science of manipulating
extremely small volumes of liquid.

So the device
is a microfluidic device, but it's not your
conventional microfluidic device.

In microfluidics, very small volumes of liquid
are pushed through tiny channels, a process that produces
some interesting chemical reactions.

Colin's devices manages
to get similar reactions and even new reactions by rapidly spinning small amounts
of liquid at very high speeds.

So...so in a way, it's
a new paradigm in microfluidics. This new paradigm
led to some unusual discoveries.

We did not set out to unboil an egg. That is a consequence
of the science. It's all about
what we call protein folding.

Eggs contain proteins - long strands
of amino acids which are tangled. When an egg is boiled, the weak bonds holding the
protein strands together are broken and the proteins
are free to move around and make new bonds
with other protein strands.

I'm gonna add a bit of,
uh...coloured solution so we can actually see
when we put it in the vortex.

The protein
is like a bit of spaghetti that's arranged
in a very specific way. If you can now readjust
this coiled bit of spaghetti, put some energy in... So the liquid is forced against
the walls of the tube, which is rapidly spinning, and it's then moving up
and moving up and it's this stress that you can
use to start to refold the protein.

Then...you've unboiled an egg.

There you have it -
the egg is now unboiled. The chemistry prize... And his discovery
didn't go unnoticed. ..is awarded to Callum Ormonde
and Colin Raston of Australia... The Ig Nobel Prize is for research
that makes you stop and laugh... And I found a high-tech device that will allow us to distinguish
the raw egg from the boiled egg. (CHEERING, APPLAUSE) ..but then makes you think.

And the moment we got it, I mean,
I was just shaking with excitement. Thank you so much again
for this high honour.

And it's an award that actually
is growing with interest each year.

After the excitement
of winning had passed...

..Colin asked his student researchers to investigate other possible
discoveries that might be made.

Using the same
egg unboiling technology, they quickly discovered this process
had a role in renewable energy.

So the first thing that we looked
at was the production of biodiesel.

An alternative fuel, biodiesel can be made
from simple renewable ingredients. We are able to produce it
from natural ingredients, so sunflower oil, vegetable oil, and it eliminates
fossil fuel emission. The problem
with traditional biodiesel production is it requires high temperatures
and some nasty chemicals...

..and typically gives low yields.

But using the vortex method, making biodiesel
becomes much more efficient...

..requiring only low temperatures
and fewer nasty chemicals.

And we can produce the biodiesel
at a high yield - so 95% yield. MAN: This is the biodiesel. 95%, that's amazing. (LAUGHS)

And biodiesel wasn't
the only clean energy discovery Colin's researchers made.

So I started researching
carbon nanotubes. I thought
it was a very exciting material. It has so many different properties, we can use it
for so many different things.

Carbon nanotubes
are long chains of carbon atoms arranged in a cylindrical shape. They're tiny - usually
one to three nanometres thick.

They're
highly electrically conductive, one hundred times stronger
than steel, and very useful in solar panels.

But to be used effectively, they first need to be untangled, just as egg proteins
can be untangled.

When we received the carbon
nanotubes, they were really long. Basically they're like spaghetti. So they're tangled spaghetti and it
is very difficult to separate them. So we thought, "We need to find a method
to cut them to shorter lengths "without using chemicals, without
using any surfactants or additives - "and how do we do that?"

Using the intense rotation
of a vortex fluidic device, Kasturi was able to bend
the carbon nanotubes, even though they're
100 times stronger than steel.

But she still couldn't cut them. And then the idea came
of using just a laser. So what happens if we direct a laser
to the tube - what would happen?

And that kind of worked.

Using a high-powered laser, Kasturi was able to cut
the nanotubes as they randomly passed
in front of the beam at the exact point where
the intense spinning had bent them.

So if you have a few nanotubes
that are at that spot, you're gonna just basically take
scissors and chop, chop, chop. So that's what's happening
at a nanoscale level, yeah.

The combination of the laser
and the vortex fluidic device could cut the nanotubes
into the required lengths.

The value of Kasturi's work
was immediately apparent to solar power researcher
Professor Joe Shapter.

MAN: So in photovoltaics, one
of the great advantages of nanotubes is that they conduct electricity
exceptionally well. So these are films that we've made
out of the short nanotubes. But the big advantage
of short carbon nanotubes is the possibility of building solar
cells with electrodes so transparent, they're practically invisible. So, you know, in this lab we can
take these short kind of nanotubes and we can make films that have
greater that 90% transparency. So if we, for example,
put that on a window or put it on any flat surface, the wall of your house or your car, you wouldn't actually even know
it was there. We could make solar panels
out of the windows. You can only do that with
really thin, flexible electrodes, and the short nanotubes
give you that opportunity.

Unboiling eggs may have earned
Professor Raston an Ig Nobel Prize... The Ig Nobel Prize, yes,
it makes people laugh. It made us laugh.
But we had the last laugh.

..but with ever more
clean energy applications coming out of his discovery, the vortex fluidic device
seems more noble that ignoble.

Next on Catalyst -
is it possible to reverse ageing? It's not science fiction.
It's science now. Connect with Catalyst on Facebook, Twitter,
Instagram, YouTube and our website.

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