Friday, 28 December 2018

Smells of Doom

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to experience the worst smell ever? Of course, there are many runner-ups in this category. Many years ago, there was a chappie in the department I worked with excruciating BO. I’m not talking about the faint miasma which surrounds manual workers after a hard day’s work. I’m talking about an intense stench apparent first thing in the morning. This individual who shall remain anonymous (stinky Eric) was completely oblivious to his predicament even after unsubtle and pointed comments from colleagues berated by this barrage of intense olfactory insult. Luckily, I worked on the floor above and therefore spared from this particular work hazard. However, on occasion, I had the mishap to tread the hallowed halls below. And indeed, the stench was particularly nauseating and not just confined to his office but seemed to permeate (nay insinuate) throughout the corridors of academic excellence. Inevitably the perpetrator was interviewed by the boss (Prof. Mugumbo) and told to go home for extensive hygienic intervention. Now you might think, due to the severity/intensity of the problem, that this individual was slighted by a bizarre metabolic condition. But in that regard, your thought processes would be awry. For miraculously and subsequently, the stench was no more and respectable folk could go about their business without having their teeth enamel seared clean orrrf. Needless to say, ‘Ol noisome’ lived alone. True story.

Laboratories are the scene for a herd of unpleasant chemical smells. Luckily, facilities are fitted with ‘fume cupboards’ which filter and scrub the air of unpleasantness. However, there are a handful of chemicals oblivious to filtering intervention. By their very nature, they can be detected by the human nose in extremely low doses and the odour released is gut-wrenchingly nauseating. The chemical in question goes under the name of mercaptoethanol. As a snot-nosed postgrad, it was my unenviable duty to extract RNA from cells, various. Part of the process dictated the use of this offensive chemical. Although I took meticulous care to contain/constrain the resultant mephitic niff, invariably molecules would permeate the whole lab. Scientists and students alike would scatter like a fart in a colander. How can I describe the smell? Tis a mixture of decaying flesh/rotten eggs/gypos/cat piss/stinky Eric with a tincture of rotten sprouts. Even after the chemical had been placed, neatly and securely in a chemical hazard bin, the smell would linger for hours. Technicians and scientists of today are saved this olfactory bombast due to a modification in the RNA extraction protocol. However, I became reacquainted with a similar smell a couple of years ago when I was developing a sperm DNA ‘unravelling’ protocol which used an analogue of mercaptoethanol. The name of the chemical escapes me, and frankly, I can’t be arsed to look it up. Again, just like mercaptoethanol, the smell was extremely unpleasant and persistent. Both these chemicals contain a thiol moiety which is perhaps responsible for the singular dank/rank, stench.

Enough reminiscing meanderings, for now, the Flaxen haired one is off to a local winery to sample the fruit of the vine in an escalation of bacchanalian excess. Wibble buttocks, akimbo

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