Stories tagged odor

Apr
13
2009

An early Hawaii-area triviashipman: Hopefully this triviashipman will come to a better end. I've tried to be courteous to the locals, at least.
An early Hawaii-area triviashipman: Hopefully this triviashipman will come to a better end. I've tried to be courteous to the locals, at least.Courtesy Artmechanic
The Puddleduck has crossed the Pacific! They said it couldn’t be done. But they also said that double-stuff Oreos would fail, and they said that Wham! would never play in China, and they said that Dances With Wolves could never win an Academy Award.

So here we are, on the northern tip of Polynesia, getting ready to answer some random questions.

How did I get random questions? Pff. Duh. I took them with me, of course. I never go anywhere without a few extra randoms, even if it means leaving my anti-psychotics out of my backpack for the extra space.

Man the guns, Buzzketeers! Random questions to port! Let us rake them to Swiss cheese, and send them to Davey Jones. (As answers.)

Elise asks: Are polar bears really bears?

Ka-boom!
Heck yeahs, Elise, polar bears is bears alright. The polar bear belongs to the family ursidae, just like all other bears. It is a pretty unique bear, though, so I can see how the confusion might arise. Polar bears, along with Kodiak bears (they’re big brown bears), are the largest meat-eating land animals. They’re also sometimes considered to be “marine mammals.” When you think about other marine mammals, like whales, seals, and dolphins, that might sound pretty weird, because bears seem pretty different from all of them. Polar bears, however, are excellent swimmers, and they spend months every year living on sea-ice, far away from land.

But, yeah. Polar bears are indeed bears.

Anonymous asks: Do they still say, “Ontology recapitulates phylogeny”?

Swab! Load! Ram! Spark the touchhole!
Um, no, they don’t. Sometimes they say, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” but for the most part nobody says stuff like that. I mean… are you serious? You could have asked about naked mole rats, and this is what you came up with? Shhh… I think I hear your old professor calling. She says that class has been really quiet since you left. Better go fix that.

Anonymous 2 asks: Why does poop smell?

Blam! Direct hit! I think we decapitated someone with that!
See? This is what I’m talking about! Sure, this is a joke question… but so was the last one, and at least this is an answer we can take to the bank. Why, when we eat delicious smelling foods, does poop smell so… bad?

It’s because after we eat food, as we digest it, bacteria inside our bodies help break that food down into other materials we can use for energy, or to build our bodies. But when bacteria do this, they also produce chemicals that don’t smell great. Some of them smell really bad! A lot of the worst smelling chemicals—the ones that make farts so gross too—contain the element sulfur, like the gas hydrogen sulfide, or the chemicals indole and skatole. Skatole smells so bad that its name comes from the Greek word for poop: “skato.” The food we eat can also change the smell of out poop. Undigested spices can show up in the odor, and sometimes eating lots of meat can make it smell worse too.

Lots of animals don’t really mind the smell of poop, but people probably think its bad because having too much contact with poop can make us sick (it can have some pretty bad germs). When we smell that smell, we know it’s something we should probably avoid for our own health.

Annika (with the help of a parent) asks: Why do blue leaves not grow?

Boom!
Good question, Annika. We have blue flowers sometimes, but leaves are usually green. Why? We have to go a couple steps back to get a good answer, I think.

Plants grow with the help of sunlight. They absorb air (or carbon dioxide from the air) and use the energy in sunlight to turn that air into more plant material. “Photosynthesis” is the fancy word for this. Plants use a green chemical called Chlorophyll, and that gives plants their green color. When white sunlight (remember, white light is made up of all colors of light) hits those leaves, the leaves reflect green light back to our eyes, but they absorb all the other colors of light, especially red and blue light. The energy in that light can then be used to help the plant grow.

Oh, man, those questions have been mutilated! I’ve got a thirst for blood now. Let’s sail on, and see which questions are foolish enough to fall into the range of our science cannons. So, until next time…

PS—It’s still Easter in Hawaii right now, by the way, so Happy Easter. (If that’s your thing.) I’m afraid JGordon is alone this Easter, but don’t get too concerned. I’ve got plans. I’m going to spin around until I almost throw up, and then I’m going to take a basket of eggs and scatter them wherever I happen to stagger. When I get my equilibrium back, I’ll go try to find the eggs. It shouldn’t be so hard—the eggs will certainly be uncooked, and the whole thing will take place in an empty parking lot.

Feb
02
2009

Which one are you?: Be honest.
Which one are you?: Be honest.Courtesy prettywar-stl
Ka-BLAM!!! What more needs to be said?

Sometimes I have these moments of doubt, and I have to ask myself, “JGordon, do you know what you’re doing… at all?”

And, you know, usually I just have to answer, “Um… I don’t know. Maybe?”

It’s not an easy way to live, to be honest. Plagued by self-doubt, stammering and stumbling through even the most basic aspects of my job… frowny face.

And then, and then… BAM! I write a Science Buzz headline that is so perfect, so emotionally evocative, so effective in communicating science fact, so cool with words and stuff… Was there ever any reason to doubt myself? It’s hard to imagine at times like these.

I say “times like these” because, of course, this is one of those times. Look at the title of this post again. Men are cheesy: yes, I understand that. Women are oniony: well, naturally, yes—I mean, “oniony” isn’t much of a word, but it all makes perfect sense. Together they make cheesy onions: a logical jump, sure, but it’s clear when written it out like that. These cheesy onions make you want to throw up: well, duh!

Do I even need to get into the rest of the news item? No, I don’t. But, really, I’ve got time to kill here, so why not?

As you know by now, having read the title of the post, scientists in Switzerland have recently determined that men’s B.O. is cheesy smelling, and women’s B.O. is oniony smelling.

Men’s sweat was found to contain lots of an “odorless fatty acid which releases a cheesy smell when exposed to enzymes produced by bacteria in the armpits.” Kind of a mouthful, if you will. (Not like my headline.)

Women, on the other hand, sweat lots of a particular sulfur-containing compound. When armpit bacteria get a hold of this compound, it turns into a “thiol.” Thiols are a type of chemicals known for their oniony smell (or their garlicky smell, according to Wikipedia).

The Swiss scientists took the study a step further, and determined which smell is grosser.

Any guesses?

That’s right. If you guess that the cheesy male smell is grosser, you were wrong. You were wrong because a team of independent testers determined that “the smell from women’s armpits was more unpleasant.” (I’m assuming that the “independent testers” were hermaphrodites that did not self-identify as either male or female.)

Also, despite any predilection you might have for cheese and/or onions, it turns out that when the armpits of men and women are combined, you do not end up with something delicious. This wasn’t part of the study; it’s something that I insist to be fact.

The research might be used to develop deodorants aimed specifically at male or female sweat. However, some scientists have pointed out that plenty of other factors go into determining the character of sweat, beyond gender. Genetics play a significant role, as well as individual diet. So while the new information might apply perfectly to the sweaters of Geneva, it might not be very useful to apply to armpits around the world.

More on the way you smell.

Nov
11
2008

If anything, sir, you're making it worse: You can wring out the sweat, but not the stink.
If anything, sir, you're making it worse: You can wring out the sweat, but not the stink.Courtesy The Michael
Yeah. Sorry. I don’t make the rules—y’all just have your own weird odors, and there’s nothing you can do to change them. Frowny face.

But, today of all days, try to get past your own problems (though they are disgusting and abounding) and be grateful to the men and women who have fought for your country. Or think about Armistice Day, and the moment on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, when the bloodiest war the world had ever seen finally came to an end.

No? That’s not doing it for you? Still stuck on yourself? Fine. We’ll deal with that first.

Oh, by the way, the statement about your having a unique, personal stink is predicated on my assumption that you’re all mice. Not figure-of-speech mice, but actual little rodents. Who have computers and can read. (And, really, what illiterate mice are going to have computers? It just goes to show that you won’t be getting ahead without an education.) Even if you aren’t mice, however, I suppose there’s a decent chance that the personal odor think applies to you (you might not be conscious of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there).

There are all kinds of things that can affect your stank. You should know that by now. Bacteria, for one, love eating your excretions and covering you with effluvia of their own. It smells bad. And your excretions aren’t necessarily a walk in the rose garden in the first place. Depending on what you eat, you can end up smelling like the dumpster behind a German restaurant (I’m thinking onions, garlic, and red meat here) or the dumpster behind a South Asian restaurant (ah, sotolon). Really, you could smell like any number of dumpsters across the globe, depending on your tastes.

But it turns out that no matter what stank you might give yourself with all that coffee and garlic pizza, you’ve got a unique stank that’s all your own, and there’s nothing to be done to change it.

See, scientists have been watching little mousies, and they’ve found that although body odors brought about by diet can be confusing to mice in identifying other individuals by their odor, there remains a unique, identifiable, genetically-influenced smell in each mouse, despite the particulars of its diet.

That was a long and bad sentence. What I meant to say was this: no matter what you eat, it seems that you have an unchangeable, unique smell. It says so here. And in far fewer words here.

What’s the upshot of this? First of all, it’s like I said: you’re hopeless, Oldspice. However, the research also suggests that someday technology could be developed that would identify individuals by their unique odor “fingerprints.” A personal odor database could be developed. Think about that—you put your fist through a bakery window just once, and the fuzz has your stink on file forever. Or maybe you wouldn’t have to show your passport to get on a plane—a robot could just sniff you. Another robot, anyway.

A brave new future, huh?

Oct
08
2008

Old-school smeller: This is how we process smells today. With new advancements in receptor protein cell development, we might someday have artificial noses to help with that work.
Old-school smeller: This is how we process smells today. With new advancements in receptor protein cell development, we might someday have artificial noses to help with that work.Courtesy LHOON
That old beak on the front of our face might be in for some serious competition in the future.

Our nose has held exclusive rights on sniffing out the multitude of odors that swirl around us. But with this latest scientific breakthrough, it might be given a run for its money.

Researchers at MIT have figured out how to mass produce the receptor proteins that make up the cells that work in as the receptors in our nose that begin the process of the sense of smell. With further development, these receptor cells could be used in the development of artificial noses. Taking that futuristic thinking a few steps further down the line, an artificial nose could have applications in area like law enforcement, where they could be used to sniff out illegal drugs or explosives. In home security, an artificial nose could be helpful in identifying natural gas leaks or the start of an unintended fire.

Here are the full details of the research. But it’s got me thinking, what other good purposes might there be for artificial noses? Let’s get the ball rolling right here on the Buzz. Share your thoughts with other readers.