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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What makes skunk musk smelly ? Anecdotal report from 1990

This is posted only out of interest as to what the compounds were that made skunk musk smelly. Sadly a few of us may possibly smell skunk-like at times. At the moment there is no medical explanation as to why. This research was done in 1990, although often these type of results will be contradicted in other tests.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg12717282.900-science-the-seven-deadly-smells-of-a-skunk-.html

Sulphur atoms are often responsible for endowing chemical compounds with nasty smells. Think of the bad-eggs smell of hydrogen sulphide. Raw onions owe their powerful aroma to the molecule propenyl thiosulphinate...
This next quote is of interest because it demonstrates how smelly compounds can be tested. Perhaps someday such a test could be the standard 'diagnosis' test for people with bloodborne body odor or halitosis
...He separated the secretions using a gas chromatograph in which the vapour of the musk was passed through a capillary tube, 12 metres long, coated with silicone oil and heated to 250 Degree C. The separated components were identified by mass spectrometry, which measures their relative molecular mass, as they emerged from the gas chromatograph...
The final quotes are posted purely of general interest.
...In the Journal of Chemical Ecology (vol 16, p 2057) Wood reveals that skunk musk consists of seven major components, each at a concentration of more than 1 per cent. Three of them are thiols, and three are thioacetates. (These are compounds related to thiols but have a thioacetate group, CH3CSS, attached to a sulphur atom instead of a hydrogen atom.) The last one is an alkaloid.

The thiols are trans-2-butene-1-thiol, which is the major component and has the most repulsive smell, 3-methyl-1-butanethiol, which smells only marginally less objectionable, and 2-quinoline methane-thiol...
...The new compounds discovered by Wood are the thioacetates of the above thiols. One of them, trans-2-butenyl thioacetate, was completely unknown before. Previous investigators had wrongly identified it as a disulphide, which is a compound with a chemical bond between two sulphur atoms. Wood believes that thioacetates are the compounds that give a skunk the ability to remind its victim of the encounter for several days. They react slowly with water to release more of the strong-smelling thiols...
...Wood suggests that the best way to remove skunk odour is to wash with a highly alkaline laundry soap. The thiols are slightly acidic and neutralising the hydrogen atom of the S-H group will turn them into ions. This will not only make them more soluble in water, but will also deodorise them because these ions are not volatile.

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