Scientists at OU find molecule that neutralizes skunk odor

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NORMAN, Okla. - In what's likely going to be the start of a sigh of relief for many, scientists at the University of Oklahoma have found a way to neutralize skunk odor.

If you or your pet has been sprayed, you know how big of a pain it can be to get rid of the smell, so you'd think research on getting rid of skunk smells would have started with a bad experience. However, that's not really the case here.

"I've been fortunate to never be the direct source of anger of a skunk," said Professor Robert Cichewicz.

Cichewicz said it actually started with cancer research, using soil sent to OU from Alaska from a member of their citizen science program.

"Well along the way, we encountered this new molecule - it's called pericosine," he said. "We found the fungi we're using for defensive purposes to block noxious chemicals in the environment."

They started thinking of things humans find noxious and just plain stinky.

So - of course - skunks came to mind.

Rather than testing on animals in their lab, they purchased skunk essence, taken directly from the skunk's scent glands.

They then started testing the pericosine with the skunk odor.

"Everyone in the lab complains," said assistant research professor Lin Du. "So, yeah, I was the bad person in the lab the last several years."

As it turns out, the molecule neutralized the odor safely and effectively.

They're now testing it with cosmetic ingredients to create a solution to the common problem - because the scientists said folk remedies and homemade concoctions can be both dangerous and ineffective.

"Tomato juice is one of them, really doesn't work," Cichewicz said. "It just makes your dog smell like tomato skunk."

Cichewicz said the tomato juice just overloads our senses.

"We just don't smell anything anymore until it calms down and you get back that smell like, oh, my dog smells like a skunk pizza," he said.

It may not have been the problem they initially set out to solve but...

"If you pay attention to the details, you can find something amazing," Du said.

Now, the hope is to find the best and safest way to incorporate the molecule into some type of product like a spray.

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