Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have identified a gene in balsam fir trees that could be used in place of ambergris – a substance harvested from whale barf – in the fragrance industry. Yes, you read that correctly…WHALE BARF!
According to the UBC news release “When sperm whales consume sharp objects, such as seashells and fish bones, their gut produces a sticky substance to protect their digestive organs. They then regurgitate the mixture – much like cats throwing up fur balls – and the vomit, reacting with seawater, turns into rock-like objects that wash ashore. These are collected and refined for their fixative properties. Called ambergris, the scented compound is added to high-end perfumes to help the fragrance stay on the skin longer.”
The study’s lead researcher noted that although ambergris is manually collected, its use has still been controversial. “First of all, it’s an animal byproduct and the use of such in cosmetics has been problematic, not to mention it comes from the sperm whale, an endangered species.”
The balsam fir gene is also much more efficient at producing these types of compounds, meaning its use could make the production of fragrances and other products less expensive, more sustainable, and less controversial.
Additional study details are posted in the April 6 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Image Credit: Paul Mallett/Flickr