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Eau de bacteria

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Scientists have found a way to grow scents in the lab.

Yeast and bacteria are usually viewed as bad things that no one wants to come into contact with. But they may soon hold the key to the next sweet smelling fragrance.

A report in Chemicals & Engineering News explains how fragrance companies are using lab-engineered bacteria and yeast to make scents that normally come from plants.

This new practice will reduce the possibility of supply disruptions caused by natural disasters or corrupt governments. It will also give perfume manufacturers the opportunity to work with rare scents that are only available in small quantities.

Wired Science reports:

"Bitter orange, grapefruit, rose and sandalwood are some of the hardest oils to obtain naturally. Thanks to advances in biotechnology, some of these scents can now be made in a petri dish. Biotech firms like Allylix, Isobionics and Evolva are genetically engineering bacteria and yeast that can produce plant oils by fermenting sugars. The companies claim they can make virtually any plant-derived molecule, it’s just a matter of scaling up production."

Currently, scientists are making citrus molecules that smell like oranges or grapefruit and vanilla. And researchers say they hope to branch out to more exotic, rare scents.

Kalib Kersh, an analyst at the consulting firm Lux Research tells Chemicals & Engineering News:

"If you have a rare compound that you can only isolate from a particular orchid that grows in the swamps of Florida, then only a handful of people in the world can have access to that. Even with a greenhouse full of orchids, it may become a top-end luxury fragrance at exorbitant feedstock prices of something like a hundred thousand dollars a pound."

But if these scents can be made in the lab, they could be grown in large quantities without touching the rare plants.

Your Perfume May Soon Be Produced by Bacteria  [Wired Science]

Photo via flickr/Mihai Bojin

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Amy Kraft

Weekend Editor

Contributing Editor Amy Kraft is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for New Scientist and DNAinfo and has produced podcasts for Scientific American's 60-Second-Science. She holds degrees from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure