Sep. 28, 2006 In the realm of real stinkers, a group of chemical compounds called isonitriles may have no rival. Renowned odor theorist Luca Turin once termed the isonitriles "the Godzilla of smells" and described them as the worst odor in the world.
"You can't believe how awful they smell," Turin said. "They make you vomit your guts out instantly."
That offensive odor is a major reason why chemists have largely shunned the isonitriles as ingredients in important chemical reactions, even though the isonitriles have distinct advantages over other ingredients. In addition, existing recipes for making isonitriles require use of hazardous compounds.
Michael C. Pirrung and Subir Ghorai, of the University of California at Riverside, now are reporting development of a new family of isonitriles.
Their isonitrile esters can be made safely, work just as well in chemical synthesis reactions as existing compounds and have a pleasant odor.
The odors include that of soy, malt, natural rubber, mild cherry and even taffy, according to a study scheduled for publication in the Sept. 20 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
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