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Cloning the Smell of the Sea 143

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the more-than-just-dead-fish dept.
An anonymous reader wrote in with an article that opens: "Scientists from the University of East Anglia have discovered exactly what makes the seaside smell like the seaside — and bottled it. The age-old mystery was unlocked thanks to some novel bacteria plucked from the North Norfolk coast." The responsible substance, dimethyl sulfide, in addition to smelling like the coast, also acts as a homing scent for birds looking to feast on plankton.
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Cloning the Smell of the Sea

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  • intresting (Score:1, Insightful)

    Very intresting research but why do we need to find out why the seaside smells like the seaside? I'm all for curiousity and discovering stuff, but this sounds really useless.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ninwa (583633)
      What if I happen to enjoy the smell and want it present in a particular room of my house? I'll be having my sea-side air (freshener?) thank you!
      • Then you'll adjust to it and never be able to smell it again. Funny no? :P
        • by rjshields (719665) on Friday February 02, 2007 @08:48AM (#17857794)
          It's true, when you're constantly surrounded by a smell you can't smell it anymore. That's also the reason that most computer geeks don't realise they reek of BO.
          • by hb253 (764272)

            Let me fix that for you:

            It's true, when you're constantly surrounded by a smell you can't smell it anymore. That's also the reason that most European computer geeks don't realise they reek of BO.
            • by Hatta (162192)

              Let me fix that for you:

                      It's true, when you're constantly surrounded by a smell you can't smell it anymore. That's also the reason that most European computer geeks don't realise they reek of BO.
              You must be constantly surrounded by american computer geeks.
      • Re:intresting (Score:4, Informative)

        by BrokenHalo (565198) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:20AM (#17857242)
        I'll be having my sea-side air (freshener?) thank you!

        You didn't have to wait. It has been known that dimethyl sulfide is the main component of the smell for many years. I distinctly remember it being mentioned when I was in high school, and that was in the '70s.
      • mmmmm... low tide....
      • by arivanov (12034)
        No thanks. I had enough dimethilsulfide during my chemistry years at Uni. I am definitely not having that as an airfreshener.
      • by poser101 (982233)
        Good point. It's actually my girlfriend's favorite scent, as she's said numerous times that she would love to have it bottled as an air freshener or even as a perfume.
        • My wife just informed me that some perfumes smell like the ocean, including one that was one of her favorites.

          BTW, apologies for posting on /. and have a spouse.
      • by ncc74656 (45571) *
        Odd that they came up with the idea that dimethyl sulfide (DMS, for short) smells like the sea. In homebrewing, DMS is one of several undesirable compounds that get driven off by the boil. If you boil the wort with the lid on the kettle, it remains in the wort. It tends to produce a disagreeable cooked-vegetable (especially cooked-corn) aroma and flavor (see this beer-judging scoresheet [bjcp.org] for a list of things that can go wrong with beer, and their causes).

        Not once have I thought that my home smelled like

        • by Gr8Apes (679165)
          Unless you roast the grain just a little too long. Then you get a nasty burnt coffee wort smell.

          My wife won't let me brew indoors anymore. :)
      • Please for everyone's sake let it not be the smell of the sea at low tide.....
    • Well, for one thing, we could mass migrate birds with concentrated amounts of this chemical. Not sure what use mass-migrating sea-birds would have...

      "Its ok...its just a bird thing...you don't control the birds...not yet anyways..."~Lisa Simpson
      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        Using a Simpsons quote is rather lame, screwing up a Simpsons quote is even lamer.
        • Wasting my time googling a simpsons quote for a simple slashdot post is just plain...a waste.
          • by Gulthek (12570)
            You shouldn't have to google it.
          • by alienmole (15522)
            Yeah, but putting the wrong words in Lisa Simpson's mouth is just plain...a crime.

            "It's not your fault... you don't control the birds. Someday you will, but not now."

      • by Joebert (946227)

        Not sure what use mass-migrating sea-birds would have

        Walk around the pink streets dressed up as a gardener with a lawn sprayer full of this stuff the day after they all get their cars washed.
      • by ParaShoot (992496)
        Snack food for the movies?

        Albatross!
    • Re:intresting (Score:5, Informative)

      by mlush (620447) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:28AM (#17857298)

      Very intresting research but why do we need to find out why the seaside smells like the seaside? I'm all for curiousity and discovering stuff, but this sounds really useless.
      How about a different spin on the story

      New biosynthetic pathway for dimethyl sulphide discovered

      Dimethyl sulphide is used in petroleum refining, steel mills and as a feed stock for the important solvent dimethyl sulfoxide. It is hoped that these the new bacterial synthetic pathway can replace the current polluting industrial process with a cleaner greener biosynthetic process.

    • by zakezuke (229119)
      Very intresting research but why do we need to find out why the seaside smells like the seaside? I'm all for curiousity and discovering stuff, but this sounds really useless.

      Well... attracting birds is one step closer to repelling them. For the most part man can coexist with birds except for airports where they are a hazzard. If nothing else, one can find a place where it's safe to attract birds.

    • Chip shops! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DaveCar (189300)
      Something about sea air makes fish and chips particularly appealing. Perhaps landlocked chip shops could blast out some synthetic sea air and make passers-by particularly hungry?
      • Something about sea air makes fish and chips particularly appealing.

        It's really weird but true. I'd want to bring some inlanders out to the shore and see if it affects them the same way, to work out the nature-vs-nurture thing.

        The chip shop would probably need to be cold, breezy, have a slight mist in the air, and the sounds of waves and gulls playing on the speakers. I'm not sure how many people would be able to suspend their disbelief enough to make it worthwhile.

        Drat, now you're going to make me go dri
    • by EveLibertine (847955) on Friday February 02, 2007 @08:08AM (#17857498)

      I'm all for curiousity and discovering stuff, but this sounds really useless.
      Obviously you don't have much of an imagination.

      The responsible substance, dimethyl sulfide, in addition to smelling like the coast, also acts as a homing scent for birds looking to feast on plankton.
      1. Find a large flat cement wall
      2. Paint a mural of a lake on it
      3. Coat with dimethyl sulfide
      4. Watch birds smash into it

      Now if that isn't reason enough why this research should considered useful, then there is something wrong with this world.
    • Re:intresting (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rawn53 (1037326) on Friday February 02, 2007 @08:15AM (#17857532)
      I'm all for curiousity and discovering stuff, but this sounds really useless.

      Result results results, eh? Science for the sake of science isn't good enough anymore?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by FernandoBR (1011821)
      Well, if we hope someday the holodecks of the Enterprise be possible, we must start solving this kind of problems now...
    • Now we know that if some factor threatens this bacteria existence, Some birds won't be able to find the sea easily.

      Could or could not be of a crucial importance in ecosystem management.
    • by SAN66 (998917)
      Aromatherapy?
    • Well, they could patent it, and then we won't have to smell that ****.
    • by MightyYar (622222)
      I know someone who never took apart their dad's tape recorder just to see how it worked...
    • Re:intresting (Score:5, Insightful)

      by theguyfromsaturn (802938) on Friday February 02, 2007 @10:16AM (#17858950)
      Never forget that those who laid the foundation of discrete computing and many basic algorithms that today have proven useful lived in an era where computers were not even dreamed of. Their research could also have been called pointless. Because you cannot see the purpose of some bit of knowledge does not make it useless per se. It may one day prove to be that little tidbit that makes something **apparently** totally unrelated and wonderful be possible. Understanding the "WHY" of one thing makes possible the "WHAT IF..." of another thing.
      • Another way of putting it is that science driven by directly-applicable results is often only capable of finding local maxima on the "truth" landscape. In other words, it's a greedy search, which in a highly non-convex function like this, is sure to give us suboptimal answers.

        (I love your sig, by the way.)
      • by Hatta (162192)
        Indeed. Whenever someone questions the utility of some basic research I remind them of GFP [wikipedia.org]. Glowing jellyfish? Neat but hardly a useful discovery. Only now GFP fusion proteins are being used to track single vesicle trafficking inside a living cell. Or with BRET [utk.edu] you can measure protein-protein interaction in real time.

        Also there are restriction enzymes [wikipedia.org]. Primitive bacterial immune systems seems like a niche field, but without restriction enzymes much of our genetic technology would not be possible. Wha
    • by ltbarcly (398259)
      You say 'we' like you had some part in it. You didn't, so stop bitching.
  • Smell of the sea? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Fist! Of! Death! (1038822) on Friday February 02, 2007 @06:33AM (#17856970)
    This is not a new discovery - Seinfeld's Kramer tried to bottle it under the monkier 'Beach'. Kalvin Clein howerver stiffed him and marketed it as 'Ocean'. I reckon they should employ fragrance lawyers NOW!
    • by jaymz2k4 (790806)
      first thing i thought of when i saw the headline :) doesnt sound like an ideal perfume though:

      "But we were misled, twice over. Firstly because that distinctive smell is not ozone, it is dimethyl sulphide. And secondly, because inhaling it is not necessarily good for you."
      • Ah the fools! They have unwittingly given us the chemical formula! Bwuha ha ha ha ha! We shall be millionaires!
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        first thing i thought of when i saw the headline :) doesnt sound like an ideal perfume though:

        "But we were misled, twice over. Firstly because that distinctive smell is not ozone, it is dimethyl sulphide. And secondly, because inhaling it is not necessarily good for you."

        Another thing, from TFA:

        DMS is also a remarkably effective food marker for ocean-going birds such as shearwaters and petrels. It acts as a homing scent like Brussels sprouts at the Christmas dinner table! - and the birds sniff out their

    • Kramer, was the first person I thought about when I saw the headline. Everyone thought it was a bad idea. Now he is justified.
    • No, this is different. It's inspired by "The Beach", but they've added a hint of precious Ambergris.

  • cologne (Score:2, Funny)

    by rg_pda (1056478)
    Man, I just had a great idea for a new cologne. I gotta get a meeting with Calvin Klein.
  • by Karma Vampire (1057016) on Friday February 02, 2007 @06:36AM (#17856982)
    I think it would take alot more than ONE substance to accurately reproduce the scent of the Jersey Shore..
    • by thefirelane (586885) on Friday February 02, 2007 @06:49AM (#17857064)
      I think it would take alot more than ONE substance to accurately reproduce the scent of the Jersey Shore

      I don't think so, most people say it just smells like shit.

      zing
      • Y'know, I remember reading that the 'active ingredient' that makes feces smell as it does is actually used in small quantities in perfume. (A quick google search hints that the chemical is named methyl mercaptan -- but I remember it sounding different, so that might not be correct...)

        So, one might say that the scent of the Jersey shore is reminiscent of a fine cologne...

    • by Achoi77 (669484)
      The upside is that that smell can apply thruout the entire state, not just the shore!
  • Squawk!!! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    So...how long before I can use this stuff to seduce that cheeky seagull I've had my eye on lately?
  • by RMB2 (936187)
    All your beach are belong to us
  • "and bottled it." ... "in addition to smelling like the coast, also acts as a homing scent for birds looking to feast on plankton"

    i'm not so sure i'd want to open that bottle...
  • Oh sure, (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Smuffe (152444)
    this is great NOW, but what about ten years from now when some sharp smell expert tries do duplicate the smell of fifty engineers in cubicles and it's YOUR socks they want?
    • by gardyloo (512791)
      this is great NOW, but what about ten years from now when some sharp smell expert tries do duplicate the smell of fifty engineers in cubicles and it's YOUR socks they want?

            That's why I so rarely do laundry. That and the insulation it provides in my cardboard box.

              (cue "Cardboard box? You were lucky!" comments)
  • by papasui (567265)
    Ah so they let the can of Tuna rot... Smart.
  • So my house smells of the sea - reminding me of idyllic childhood holidays and endless summers.

    But I have to pay a little man to beat off the sea birds who have come in search of plankton. I live 1,400km from the ocean.

    Pros and cons...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Numbstruck (955273)

      But I have to pay a little man to beat off the sea birds who have come in search of plankton.


      If I come in search of plankton will I get the same treatment?
  • by DreadfulGrape (398188) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:17AM (#17857208)
    Kramer already did this

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pick_(Seinfeld_ep isode) [wikipedia.org]
  • by jenik (1030872) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:21AM (#17857246)
    One 'marine' scent has been around for a while and is heavily used in common fragrances - Calone http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calone [wikipedia.org]
  • They cloned the what of the sea? Smell? Is that one of the new user interface features supported in Vista? When will we have it in KDE?
  • They knew about it further west long ago; it was the molecule of the month [bris.ac.uk] at Bristol University back in October 2005, where they mention its contribution to the smell of the sea. And of truffles. And of farts. Mmm, versatile!
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It has been known that dimethylsulfide is produced in salt marshes and gives them the characteristic odor for a long time. The Spartina grass forms a molecule called dimethysulfoniopropionate (DMS) as an osmotic regulator to allow them to grow in salt water. When the grass dies, bacteria decompose it to form dimethylsulfide and acrylate. I was interested in looking at this process more than 10 years ago, even collected mud in the marshes while at the beach on vacation, but never had the time to follow up
    • The smell of farts? I think you answered that other guy's question about how to replicate the scent of the Jersey Shore.
  • by kbox (980541)

    Scientists from the University of East Anglia have discovered exactly what makes the seaside smell like the seaside
    is it toxic waste and dog shit?
    • is it toxic waste and dog shit?

      They said the University of East Anglia, not the University of Newark.
  • Take several used condoms, some dirty needles, put them in sand covered plastic shopping bags - voila, instant sea smell.

    At least, it smells like the sea near where I live.
  • Beach Cologne (Score:1, Redundant)

    by LlamaDragon (97577)
    Wow, this was completely Cosmo Kramer's idea which he pitched to Calvin Klein. They stole the idea and created Ocean cologne. Then when confronted by Kramer, they made him an underwear model.

    When Seinfeld finds out about this a lawsuit is sure to follow...
  • Mmmm... DMS (Score:2, Informative)

    by frazamatazzle (783144)
    Same compound that makes your beer smell like canned peas. Not a good quality.
    • by fuego451 (958976)

      Small correction for the US beer market:

      Same compound that makes your beer smell like canned piss. Not a good quality.
  • considering a protein skimmer on a saltwater tank is doing a similar job that the beach does for the ocean, shouldnt I just be able to dump the nasty fish poo foam from mine into some mixed saltwater and get a similar smell? Maybe add some aragonite sand to it and mix it up?
  • At last! (Score:5, Funny)

    by nmg196 (184961) * on Friday February 02, 2007 @08:00AM (#17857448)
    > dimethyl sulfide, in addition to smelling like the coast,
    > also acts as a homing scent for birds

    I always knew the scientists could come up with a pheromone which really does attract the birds.

    Now I can smell like the sea AND get all the hot chicks.
    • by ozbird (127571)
      I always knew the scientists could come up with a pheromone which really does attract the birds.

      It's called shark liver - it pulls the (sea)birds like nothing else - yet it also helps prevent the same birds ending up as by-catch on the end of a longline hook.
      (Just don't get any of it on you - the "birds" won't come within a mile of you.)
  • ...Let's just hope that life doesn't start imitating the "backwards" episode where they start out iin the present in India, and end up in the past in New York... I'm pretty sure that would (eventually) destroy the universe...
  • Yes, the smell of dead fish . . . at least where I am from.
  • by durin (72931)
    Apparently they've managed to bottle the smell of "rotting seaweed", or coogee, as I think the australian aborigines call it (it's also the name of a beach on the outskirts of Sydney).
  • The responsible substance, dimethyl sulfide, in addition to smelling like the coast, also acts as a homing scent for birds looking to feast on plankton.
    Attention Hollywood [imdb.com], you now have a plot.
    • Attention Hollywood, you now have a plot.


      Birds on the Bounty?
      Loons on a Liner?
      Avians Gone Awful?

      I'll take those royalties now!
  • The most notable characteristic of the sea is that it is constant, eternal, but always changes. Waves, tides, floods, storms, breezes, everything about the sea is always in constant change. It's a metaphor for change. And since smells are little pieces of the thing dissolving directly in the flesh of our brains, the smell changes all the time, too.

    Different seas. Different tides. Different seasons. Different weather. Very different smells. I've lived on Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf and Great Lakes. I've visited
  • Headline reads "Smell-a-Vision replaces Television".
  • by SkyDude (919251) on Friday February 02, 2007 @09:53AM (#17858598)
    Back in the day, after a night of pounding down many beers, one of my hard-drinkin' roommates would take a dump which left the distinct aroma of "low tide". If that's what they're trying to capture, it's already been done by Budweiser.
  • by zymurgy_cat (627260) on Friday February 02, 2007 @09:55AM (#17858634) Homepage
    DMS in beer, from bacterial infection or inadequate boiling, is often described as smelling as cooked shellfish or seafood....
  • Intellectual property theft is an enormously damaging economic and cultural crime [riaa.com] and linked with terrorism [interpol.int].

    Counterfeit goods [like this fake sea smell] is a crime that is seen as victimless by many but it is in fact a destructive and potentially deadly criminal activity [octf.gov.uk].
  • The soothing seabreeze turns out to be airborne bacteriopoop! This does deserve a spotlight on slashdot...
  • If you're a sailor, it's the smell of land.

    rj
  • It'll be interesting to see how the intellectual property of this research is delimited. This historical case [mwe.com] (top of page) between L'Oreal (now owners of the Body Shop I believe) and a lesser known perfumery, was ruled on the basis that scents are a "work of the mind" and so fall under the same principles of authorship as music and film.

    Put simply, is the sea or the scientist the author of this smell? Could this research lab sue another organistion company for producing a similar smell even if not using
  • I was a biochemistry major in college. As I recall DMS (dimethyl-sulfide), like DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), has an odor like cooked or rotting cabbage. In trying to refresh my memory I came across this passage from chemistry.org: "Dimethyl sulfide causes that distinctive smell from your St. Patrick's Day boiled cabbage. When this compound is present at low levels in wines, it contributes to an overall fruity odor. Dimethyl sulfide given off by marine organisms is thought to be a source of cloud condensation
  • For those not fomiliar with it, the smell of the sea around Norfolk is something I grew up with. As an adult, I can tell you it has three major components:


    Dead fish


    Diesel Oil


    Raw sewerage.


    Not necessarily in that order.

  • Doesn't this mean we now have a substance that will make birds target you and crap all over you?
  • "also acts as a homing scent for birds looking to feast on plankton."

    "Hey! what's with all the flying jerks?"
  • What's that new cologne you're wearing? It has a smell. A kind of smelly smell that smells.... ...
    smelly.

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