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Plant gene can replace whale compound in perfumes

Canada,Lifestyle/Fashion,Science/Tech,Environment/Wildlife, Thu, 05 Apr 2012 IANS

Toronto, April 5 (IANS) A gene identified in balsam fir trees could lower cost of producing plant-based fixatives used in the perfume industry and reduce the need for ambergris, a whale compound, a study reveals.




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 Journal of Biological Chemistry reported.



"The use of ambergris in the fragrance industry has been controversial," said Joerg Bohlmann, professor of botany and forest sciences, University of British Columbia, who co-authored the study with postdoctoral research associate Philipp Zerbe at UBC's Michael Smith Labs.



"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," said Bohlmann, according to a university statement.



Even though much of the ambergris approved for use today is manually collected along the shorelines of known sperm whale habitats in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and in the Caribbean, it is still a costly venture.



"We've now discovered that a gene from balsam fir is much more efficient at producing such natural compounds, which could make production of this bio-product less expensive and more sustainable," said Bohlmann.



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