Friday, 6 April 2012

Ambergris

I'm not really a big fan of the newspaper. Having said that, I do subscribe to one of our local papers (The Herald) and whenever I find myself having coffee at Tim's, A & W, or McDonalds I will read the other local rag (The Sun).

I can remember when the first Sun came off of the presses in Toronto November 1, 1971. It was born when the Toronto Telegram went out of business and like the proverbial Phoenix the Sun rose from the ashes. It copied the format of like rags in England. All articles can be read in between subway stops and the paper is small enough to be read comfortably held in front of you. They have a large entertainment and sports section and of course a picture of a scantily clad, beautiful young woman which is bound to find itself decorating the wall in garages all over the city.
Since then, the Sun has spread to Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg like a cancer. The editorial policy is conservative and quite frankly it isn't really worth wrapping rotten fish and potato peelings in. Just my opinion, but really mine is the only one that matters to me.

On the odd occasion there are interesting bits of information in the paper, There were a few things that piqued my interest today. My coffee is on sale for $2.67 which is a savings of $3.81, and who can turn down a bargain like that? There was the dead body of what they suspect is a rat found in the SE of the city. This is a big deal because rats aren't allowed in our province. I have always liked that about Alberta. I wonder why they don't extend the ban to other vermin like lawyers, politicians, religious fanatics and telemarketers.

The other article that caught my imagination was about Ambergris. It seems that researchers in British Columbia have identified a gene in balsam fir that could eliminate the need for ambergris. Ambergris is a strong perfume fixative that is made from a mixture of regurgitated seashells, fish bones and a whales sticky stomach substance that reacts with sea water to become rocklike. I know that there is a lot of things that I don't know, but I really didn't know that ladies smell so good because of whale vomit. What other disgusting stuff are they wearing?
I like to think about things like who was the first person to find a hunk of whale vomit and decide to see if it would be a good fixative for perfume. Most people that hang out around whales generally aren't perfume chemists, or at least I didn't think they were. I have to admit that the smell of vomit will hang around for hours, so I guess if it will make perfume hang around longer then that is a good thing. But who thinks like that? I was in the bathroom today, and it is just possible that I may have stumbled upon a new fixative.

This professor at UBC, Joerg Bohlmann, has found a way to synthesize abergris using enzymes from tree bark. Good going Joerg! I am sure that the people that make a living scouring the beaches along the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific will just love you. I was just at the beach in California and if I had known I would have been on the lookout for chunks of Ambegris. I just checked, and the current price is about $25 per gram. I don't think it would have been worth going in that cold Pacific water.

There are so many things that I don't know. Who would have thought that someone  could make their living developing synthetic whale vomit, or writing about it in a newspaper?

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