organism odors ( was re: Ecoli?)

ROCKBUGS rockbugs at aol.com
Thu Oct 5 09:07:35 EST 1995

     I didn't realize that recognizing characteristic odors of organisms
was an unusual talent. I've been a Med Tech for nearly ten years, and this
is the way that I was taught.
The real challenge is trying to describe in words what some of them smell
like.      Beside the usual Pseudomonas aeruginosa (grape kool-aid) and
Haemophilus  species ( musty-mousy), there's the previously mentioned P.
cepacia (stinks, hard to describe)  and X. maltophilia (ammonia) some
Flavobacterium species (tutti-frutti), Staphylococcus ( species vary from
"fresh-sweet" to "dirty-wet dog"), Proteus mirabilis (another tough one,
but it's strong, and will stink up the whole incubator), Strep bovis
(butter-rum),  Ecoli (on MAC is almost sweet, but on BAP is like
mothballs), some "normal flora" sputum cultures (which bug, I don't know)
have a smell that I can only describe as "Fritos" (the corn chip) , and we
had one strain of Pseudo last year that absolutely reeked of dirt and
moldy potatoes. The whole lab just stank for days after the plate had been
already bagged and autoclaved! 
      The only time that this "olfactory skill" has caused me problems was
when a patient turned out to have Neisseria meningitidis bacteremia, and a
coworker and I (who had our noses in the plates) ended up on Rifampin for
three days - along with everyone else who had had contact with the
     So, now I have a question. Has anyone ever done gas chromatography or
anything else to determine the chemical makeup of these odors? Does anyone
care?  Are they strictly a byproduct of metabolism? Some of them disappear
or lessen on subculture, so do only "wild" bugs do the wild thing? Do they
"get happy" on the plates and stop eating beans? Maybe I should go back
for my Master's, and make this my thesis...
     Forgive me for rambling, I'll go back to "lurking", now.

     Kathryn L. Sherlock, BS, MT(ASCP)
     (Kathy or Rockbugs)

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