Prokaryotic Perfumes


For many years now, scientists at C-MOULD have explored the use of naturally pigmented bacteria (see the image above) to generate living inks and textile dyes. In 2015 we will explore another sense through which we can engage with, and perhaps even be manipulated by, the bacterial world. Rather than vision, this sense is smell.

Smell can evoke the richest of memories,  and through this sense our most intimate and affecting moments can be reached more readily than through any other channel. The project is inspired by my own experiences in medical microbiology, and how we were taught to presumtively identify bacterial pathogens on the basis of the aroma that they generate. To this day I can still remember the moment, when in an undergraduate microbiology lab class, the late Joyce Fraser told me that Haemophilus influenza when grown on blood agar smells of semen! She was of course quite correct. In the same manner nurses working in Burns Wards can smell via its grape like odour whether a patient has been infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Here are some other bacterial aroma notes:

Eikenella corrodens: bleach

Staphyloccocus aureus: skin-like smell with a secondary smell of bread.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa: initial smell of grapes with a secondary smell of tortillas

Group F Beta Hemolytic Streptococcus: strong buttery smell

Stenotrophomonas: ammonia

Staphylococcus epidermidis: body odour

Streptococcus intermedius: butterscotch

Proteus vulgaris: burnt chocolate

Flavobacterium odoratum and Alcaligenes faecalis (formerly Alcaligenes odorans) freshly cut apple

Streptomyces coelicolor: freshly dug soil/autumnal woodlands

Gluconoacetobacter species: vinegar

Clostridium perfringens: horse shit

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