Microbial aromas might save crops from drought
- the conversation
- In her book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson writes: “The sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories….” You might wonder how this relates to microorganisms. In fact, they produce most of the odours that we perceive. If you’ve ever walked in a forest following the first rainfall after a dry spell, you would recall a sweet, fresh and powerfully evocative smell. This earthy-smelling substance is geosmin, a chemical released into the air by a soil-dwelling bacteria called actinomycetes. You may also recall the tangy scent of the sea, evoking memories of crashing waves, sandy beaches and the cry of seagulls. This smell is thanks to dimethyl sulfide, a rather stinky sulfurous compound produced by bloom-forming algae.