Copyright British Library_ Dr Christina Lee

British Library features Ancientbiotics research as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations

Friday, 29 September 2023

Dr Christina Lee's Ancientbiotics research has been featured in the British Library's 50th anniversary celebrations.

Dr Christina Lee, an Anglo-Saxon expert from the School of English, discovered Bald's Leechbook - an Old English leatherbound volume -  in the British Library. She enlisted the help of microbiologists from the University’s Centre for Biomolecular Sciences to recreate a 10th century potion for eye infections, to see if it really worked as an antibacterial remedy.

The Leechbook is widely thought of as one of the earliest known medical textbooks and it contains Anglo-Saxon medical advice and recipes for medicines, salves and treatments. Results on the 'potion' revealed that it has a remarkable effect on Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which is one of the most antibiotic-resistant bugs costing modern health services billions.

The research has been further developed over time with Dr Freya Harrison, a Reader in Microbiology at the University of Warwick, and the collaborative project on Bald's Leechbook, has now been shared by the British Library as part of its 50th anniversary initiatives.

This manuscript is unique, and we don’t have any other copies. I’m really pleased that it has survived the ravages of time: an awful lot of medical remedies from this period haven’t survived. We’re pretty lucky that the Library has this beauty on its shelves. It is a fantastic place.
Dr Christina Lee, Associate Professor in Viking Studies

Dr Lee explains: "The Library is a fantastic place. It amazes me that these manuscripts are there. It’s accessible for many people, which is a very good thing. It’s also great that the Library digitised its early manuscripts, because obviously, they wouldn’t be able to stand daily wear and tear."

"I use quite a lot of the digitised material, but there’s nothing better than going into the Manuscripts Room, knowing that the original is waiting for me there. That link with the past, the idea that I am touching something which is smiling at me from over a thousand years ago, is the biggest thrill of all."

The British Library began operations in July 1973. It was designed to encourage scientific and technological research, business, the arts and humanities. It holds approximately 170 million items. In addition to books, newspapers and journals, it's collection includes maps, stamps, photographs and sound recordings.

The article on Dr Christina Lee's research can be found here.

More information about the British Library and it's 50th anniversary celebrations is available here.


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Image and excerpts from the British Library 

Hannah Severyn - Media Relations Manager
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