Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Culture Clash: Sustainable Ambergris Substitute?

The headline from PR-centric ScienceDaily sounds oh-so-eco-friendly:
Sustainable Way to Make a Prized Fragrance Ingredient
But there’s less here than meets the nose. Sure, the prized fragrance ingredient is ambergris, which perfume houses won’t touch with a ten-foot harpoon, even when it’s scavenged on a beach. The substitute—an approximation, really—is Ambrox, originally synthesized by Firmenich from sclareol, a material found in tiny amounts in clary sage.

The news is that Firmenich researchers have found a way to produce sclareol in bigger quantities.

Sustainable, hooray!

They do it with some cool genetic engineering—inserting clary sage enzymes into E. coli bacteria, which then pump out the sclareol.

Genetic engineering, hooray!

Oh, wait . . . that means they’re using genetically modified organisms. Boo, hiss!

But Ambrox is saving the whales. Hooray!

But it’s a synthetic chemical. Hiss!

I just love it when eco doctrines collide. Good, clean entertainment. Pass the popcorn.

Who wants synthetic butter flavor on theirs?

The study discussed here is “ Toward a biosynthetic route to sclareol and amber odorants,” by Michel Schalk, Laurence Pastore, Marco A. Mirata, Samretthy Khim, Marina Schouwey, Fabienne Deguerry, Virginia Pineda, Letizia Rocci, and Laurent Daviet, published in Journal of the American Chemical Society, 134:18900-189003, 2012.

1 comment:

Hank Roberts said...


Is anyone looking for whatever produces ambergris in vivo? I'd bet on some bacterial population in the whale guts. We already know there's need to restore the whales and get whale poop back to a level where it's doing its job