Archive for August 21st, 2010

Quick science update. Two stories caught my eye – or maybe nose? – over the last couple of days. The first was that bacteria smell. And no I’m not talking about the pong of your bashed-up runners or the bin full of rotting vegetation in a heatwave. I mean they actually seem to have a prototype sense of smell – they detect volatile, airborne compounds that you or I would classify as an odour. In this case the bacteria in question sensed some ammonia being given off by other bacteria nearby and they responded by producing slime and changing colour. You just have to love how bacteria don’t hold back in letting their neighbours know how they feel. The study was carried out in Newcastle University and it’s published in Biotechnology Journal if you really want to check it out. As an aside, some commentators have been getting a little sniffy about how reports of the findings talk about bacteria having a ‘sense of smell’ rather than just detecting airborne chemicals, so apologies to anyone offended by the reek in that inference.
The other smell-related story that popped up on my radar got pushed under my nose late last night when an editor I work with emailed me the link. I can see how he had been intrigued by the headline – Breath Test Could Reveal Cancer. Using a test based on gold nanoparticles scientists were able to detect levels of airborne compounds that increase in cancer patients, and the preliminary study showed the electronic nose could distinguish between healthy and malignant breath. Malignant breath? Yikes.

Claire O’Connell

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