When penicillin came into use in the 1940s it seemed like a godsend. The war and the postwar period were synonymous with pain, injury, infection and death. But the antibiotic had a revolutionary ability to turn around everything we knew about medicine. However, there was not for everyone.
In those years and “despite efforts to increase crop yields, 2,000 liters of mold fluid were needed to obtain enough penicillin to treat a single case of sepsis.” That made it exceptionally valuable. But the most curious thing was not that, the most curious thing is that we were wasting most of it: on the pee .
About 95 percent of all penicillin administered was excreted in the urine in perfect condition . Typically four hours after consuming it. This, although it may not seem like it, turned out to be excellent news: due to its particular pharmacodynamics it could be extracted from crystallized urine. The lives that the urinals could save …
And it is ugly to say it, but urine is something wonderful .
Already in Ancient Rome, urine was tremendously appreciated and all that was collected in public latrines used to be used for industrial purposes. Tanners and laundries used it to marinate hides or bleach togas.
In fact, there is a well-known anecdote about precisely this. The Emperor Vespasian , who ruled for a decade in the late 1st century, realized that money was leaking down the toilet and imposed a tax on the Sewer Maxima .
From that moment on, artisans needed to pay the public treasury to use the urine of their fellow citizens. And, of course, things got tense. The controversy reached such a point that Titus, Vespasian’s son, scolded him for trying to get money from the (otherwise magnificent) Roman network of latrines.
An inexhaustible source of resources hidden in our urine
Without going to the excesses of Henning Brand, a Germanic alchemist obsessed with finding the relationship (obvious to him) between rust and gold. The truth is that real human urine for sale was a quick source of ammonia, phosphorus, or toothpaste . Catulo, the Roman satirical poet, has a poem in which he talks about the whiteness of Hispanic teeth .
It was tough being Hispanic at that time. But it was harder to be Roman: the urine of the Lusitania was traded at the price of gold on the markets of the Italian metropolis.
Later, urine was essential to make gunpowder . The elements to make it were easy to find: things like coal or sulfides. For example, before undertaking the conquest of the Aztec Empire, it is said that Cortés’ men climbed the Popocatepetl volcano to obtain the necessary sulfur. But there was one thing that could not be synthesized (and was not synthesized until a few decades ago), potassium nitrate. Luckily, with the urine and some other component of the compost it could be obtained.
We learned things and stopped using it
Our abilities for organic synthesis have made urine lose its value, but even today we find numerous research groups using it to develop new treatments. No wonder, rust is one of the most interesting and complex biofluids that exist . David Wishart of the University of Alberta has spent his entire life working with this liquid and has found nearly 3,000 different metabolites in it.
The Urine Metabolome Database is a cathedral dedicated to the scientific knowledge of urine that brings together everything we know about metabolites, concentrations, and diseases. A liquid that has played a key role in the development of human civilization and in the transformation of nature.
And that it still does, marine biologists have been concerned for years about the effect that chemicals we spill through our urine have on the behavior of fish and other species that live under the sea. There is talk, for example, of the infertility that the traces of contraceptive pills are causing .
Something similar to the situation in the mountains and forests of industrialized societies occurs with urine residues: their management (especially when there were large concentrations) depended on the ability to monetize it. Hence, they are now ‘out of control’ and many experts begin to propose the need to control this type of waste. Everything (like shoulder pads) ends up coming back and sometimes (not like shoulder pads) it’s a good idea .