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Genetically Modified Odors

October 4, 2016

Scientists modify microbes to produce some unusual fragrances.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

GM odors. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

While genetic modification of corn and other crops gets most of the attention, genetically modified microbes are also widely used. Cristina Agapakis is a microbiologist at Gingo Bioworks in Boston.

CRISTINA AGAPAKIS (Gingko Bioworks):

You can use microbes as a factory to make molecules that might be useful in flavor and fragrance, medicine, fuels, cosmetics, foods, nutrition, all sorts of things.

HIRSHON:

At a recent science conference, she described a yeast that makes patchouli oil lighter than the plant version. And microbes that produce fragrances to replace natural compounds that come from endangered species— or even species that have vanished.

AGAPAKIS:

Could we make the smell of plants that have gone extinct; can you kind of re-create those smells so you can access something that is really impossible to access today?

HIRSHON:

Perhaps leading to a line of paleo-perfumes. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon