Sweet Smell of Sustainability: Renewable Sources for Artificial Scents

Graduate student Gabriel Rodriguez (left) and Professor Shota Atsumi.
Graduate student Gabriel Rodriguez (left) and Shota Atsumi, assistant professor of chemistry, test the scent of a bacterial culture engineered to make sweet-smelling esters.

Fresh banana, a waft of flowers, blueberry: the scents in Shota Atsumi's laboratory in the UC Davis Department of Chemistry are a little sweeter than most. That's because Atsumi and his team are engineering bacteria to make esters — molecules widely used as scents and flavorings, and also as basic feedstock for chemical processes from paints to fuels. "Our motivation is to make chemicals from renewable sources instead," Atsumi said. Scents and flavorings make up a $20 billion industry worldwide, he said. Read more at UC Davis News.