Many of the solutions used to tackle the strong smell of skunk spray only have moderate success. Scientists have learned that a chemical produced by the Tolypocladium fungi can effectively neutralize this overwhelming odor. The full story of the almost findings that led to this discovery is reported in the Journal of Natural Products.
An Unexpected Chemical Reaction
It all started while a team of researchers was growing different fungal species together. This group included Robert Cichewicz, who is a natural products and drug discovery researcher at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Among the fungi they grew was the Tolypocladium type. The team noticed that this fungus produced the compound pericosine, which went on to react with a number of other chemicals produced by the other fungi species. After witnessing pericosine tackle even harmful chemicals, the scientists decided to see how far this compound could take its neutralizing ability.
The next stage of the experiment involved mixing pericosine with skunk spray. This they obtained by ordering a sample of the essence. The fungal chemical reacted with the essence and completely cleared the odor. It does this reacting with the sulfur compounds in skunk spray, which are largely responsible for the harsh and noxious effect of the animal’s defense mechanism.
When a wild or domestic animal gets too close to a skunk and makes it feel threatened, it can easily end up as the next victim of a skunk’s spray. Removing the odor from a pet is not easy, and some residues can stay on for weeks. Gentle solutions of de-skunking include soap, but these are not always very effective. Bleach can be used for some materials, but this is too harsh to use on humans and pets.
Pericosine is the fungi’s own defense mechanism. Preliminary tests show that it is gentle on the skin. It has the potential to be used in cosmetic deodorizing products.