The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 02-14-2006, 04:54 PM
Antigen Antigen is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: was Montreal, now MD
Posts: 7,114
Using smell to help ID bacteria

I've noticed that the veteran techs in the micro lab have the ability to open up a plate and say "oh, that's a staph aureus" just from the smell as the lid is lifted. My clinical instructor used to have a printout about characteristic bacterial smells, but now she can't find it, and I'd like to help her put a new one together. The only problem is, because this isn't really an ID method, I'm having a tough time finding any information about bacterial odors in textbooks or online.

Can any Straight Dope microbiologists, techs, or weirdos who culture bacteria in their spare time, help me make a list of characteristic odors? Feel free to use any sort of descriptors for the smells.

The ones I've got so far:

Pseudomonas aeruginosa
: grape (like kool-aid)
Eikenella corrodens: bleach
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 02-14-2006, 06:15 PM
picunurse picunurse is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Seattle
Posts: 11,510
Quote:
Originally Posted by Antigen
I've noticed that the veteran techs in the micro lab have the ability to open up a plate and say "oh, that's a staph aureus" just from the smell as the lid is lifted. My clinical instructor used to have a printout about characteristic bacterial smells, but now she can't find it, and I'd like to help her put a new one together. The only problem is, because this isn't really an ID method, I'm having a tough time finding any information about bacterial odors in textbooks or online.

Can any Straight Dope microbiologists, techs, or weirdos who culture bacteria in their spare time, help me make a list of characteristic odors? Feel free to use any sort of descriptors for the smells.

The ones I've got so far:

Pseudomonas aeruginosa
: grape (like kool-aid)
Eikenella corrodens: bleach
I have no idea how you came up with grape koolaid forPseudomonas aeruginosa, but I can tell you from many nights in various burn units, it doesn't smell like anything I'd ingest. It smells like rotting flesh to me. ickky
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 02-14-2006, 06:21 PM
edwino edwino is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Pseudomonas does have a characteristic grape-y odor, but I think it is usually too covered up by other human smells. C. difficile stools have a very characteristic odor, though. Smell that once and you won't forget it. I know the smell of a culture of E. coli from all my years doing molecular biology, it smells somewhere between vomit and melting styrofoam. Kind of tart, sweet, pungent, chemical.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 02-14-2006, 06:35 PM
Qadgop the Mercotan Qadgop the Mercotan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Slithering on the hull
Posts: 22,398
Trichomonas vaginitis has quite the characteristic odor, and I was often very successful in diagnosing it presumptively before looking at the wet prep. I won't describe the odor other than observe that its not nice.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 02-14-2006, 06:53 PM
HMS Irruncible HMS Irruncible is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Quote:
Originally Posted by Qadgop the Mercotan
Trichomonas vaginitis has quite the characteristic odor, and I was often very successful in diagnosing it presumptively before looking at the wet prep. I won't describe the odor other than observe that its not nice.
What's the one responsible for dental caries/gingivitis? It's very specific, I can only describe the smell as "black". It just makes me feel like wilting whenever it gets breathed on me (usually while riding the train). There's many kinds of bad breath but only one black cloud of decay.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 02-14-2006, 07:00 PM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: SF Bay Area, California
Posts: 10,494
Quote:
Originally Posted by edwino
I know the smell of a culture of E. coli from all my years doing molecular biology, it smells somewhere between vomit and melting styrofoam. Kind of tart, sweet, pungent, chemical.
I'm not squeamish at all most stuff, but that is one of the few odors that almost instantly makes me want to heave. Good description, by the way.

- Tamerlane
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 02-14-2006, 07:26 PM
Br'er Lapin Br'er Lapin is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by picunurse
I have no idea how you came up with grape koolaid forPseudomonas aeruginosa, but I can tell you from many nights in various burn units, it doesn't smell like anything I'd ingest. It smells like rotting flesh to me. ickky
It always reminded me of really dirty socks.

Unfortunately, that's the only one whose smell I can distinctly recall.
__________________
despite the username, I am indeed female.
"I ALSO believe all conflicts are solvable through communication, peace is attainable, and love is a gift that cannot be commodified!" - T Rex
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 02-14-2006, 07:48 PM
Antigen Antigen is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: was Montreal, now MD
Posts: 7,114
Quote:
Originally Posted by edwino
C. difficile stools have a very characteristic odor, though. Smell that once and you won't forget it.
It's noticeable in the stool specimens, definitely, but when you open up an anaerobic jar that's got a C diff. plate in it... my textbook calls it a "horse stable odor" but I say it smells like the anaerobic jar's been shat in.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 02-14-2006, 09:13 PM
Qadgop the Mercotan Qadgop the Mercotan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Slithering on the hull
Posts: 22,398
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brain Wreck
What's the one responsible for dental caries/gingivitis? It's very specific, I can only describe the smell as "black". It just makes me feel like wilting whenever it gets breathed on me (usually while riding the train). There's many kinds of bad breath but only one black cloud of decay.
Dammit Brain, I'm a doctor, not a dentist!

Probably some nasty anaerobe or something. I'll ask a dentist colleague if I remember.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 02-15-2006, 01:03 AM
edwino edwino is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by Qadgop the Mercotan
Trichomonas vaginitis has quite the characteristic odor, and I was often very successful in diagnosing it presumptively before looking at the wet prep. I won't describe the odor other than observe that its not nice.
Google ad reads "Fishy Vaginal Odor?"

I'm on OB/Gyn for the next two weeks. The "whiff test" makes me nearly retch, every time. And I do three or four of them a day.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 02-15-2006, 01:05 AM
edwino edwino is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by Qadgop the Mercotan
Dammit Brain, I'm a doctor, not a dentist!

Probably some nasty anaerobe or something. I'll ask a dentist colleague if I remember.
The most common mouth anaerobes that we tend to get is Fusobacterium, Strep mutans, or Peptostreptococcus. I'd bet it is one of those. Did I mention I'm thinking about doing a fellowship in Infectious Disease?
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 02-15-2006, 03:13 AM
irishgirl irishgirl is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2001
Perhaps we've got a new variant on "see one, do one teach one"?
See one, smell one, know one.


Staph. Aureus just smells like..Staph. Aureus, it's the one I remember most, a horrible yeasty pus smell. Yuck.


What's worse than the "whiff test" is when you can diagnose TV or BV the second the patient walks into the room. I love everything about OB/Gyn except those particular smells.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 02-15-2006, 07:51 AM
Qadgop the Mercotan Qadgop the Mercotan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Slithering on the hull
Posts: 22,398
Quote:
Originally Posted by edwino
Did I mention I'm thinking about doing a fellowship in Infectious Disease?
Cool! Who's your attending? I had John Bartlett when I took ID.

I doubt I left any significant impression on him, tho.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 02-15-2006, 08:24 AM
August West August West is offline
Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Farmington, WI
Posts: 3,606
I am not in medicine, but I do microbiological plating of beer and can usually tell by smell if it's a wild yeast or a bacteria. Several beer spoiling bacteria have characteristic aromas
Pectinatus has a sort of vomity, butyric aroma
Lactobacillis is a sharp sour milk smell
And of course Acetobacter is vinegary
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 02-15-2006, 08:36 AM
edwino edwino is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by Qadgop the Mercotan
Cool! Who's your attending? I had John Bartlett when I took ID.

I doubt I left any significant impression on him, tho.
Right now, I'm finishing medical school (2 months, 1 week, 2 days left). Match day is in one month and one day, then my fate will be sealed.

Intern year starts in July, and I'll have a little while to decide between ID, endocrine, and critical care.

My friend, who's trying to convince me to come to Hopkins, emailed me a few months ago when John Bartlett was his attending. So apparently, still going strong over at Hopkins...
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 02-15-2006, 08:44 AM
edwino edwino is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by edwino
Right now, I'm finishing medical school (2 months, 1 week, 2 days left). Match day is in one month and one day, then my fate will be sealed.

Intern year starts in July, and I'll have a little while to decide between ID, endocrine, and critical care.

My friend, who's trying to convince me to come to Hopkins, emailed me a few months ago when John Bartlett was his attending. So apparently, still going strong over at Hopkins...
But I have to name drop, I'm reasonably close with Dan Musher, who wrote the Harrison's chapter on Pneumococcus. I've never worked directly under him, but we've consulted him a bunch, I know his son pretty well, I've eaten dinner with him a few times, etc.

But that's it in terms of ID around here. Some good attendings, but nobody really leading the field.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 02-15-2006, 01:48 PM
Bewildebeest Bewildebeest is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Posts: 511
Scratch-N-Sniff for dangerous pathogens! There's a concept for you.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 02-15-2006, 05:26 PM
tsarina tsarina is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2000
There's a Neisseria species (I think it may be N. cinerea, but don't quote me on it) that vaguely smells like chocolate cake.

Campylobacter jejuni always reminded me of a cross between rotting tomatoes and rotting flesh.

Yum!
__________________
If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 02-16-2006, 05:44 AM
scm1001 scm1001 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2001
Cant help the OP but there are many laboratories developing diagnostic tests that will essentially sniff for the odours of infections, and use a GC/MS system to analyze it. It could be used for quick diagnosis say of TB or MRSA
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 05-03-2014, 01:36 PM
monied406 monied406 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2014
Smell of specific bacteria

I believe smell (even a slight waft of the colonies) can help with identification of bacteria. I see and smell (much to my dismay sometimes) the microorganisms everyday.

Staphyloccocus aureus: smells like a strong skin like smell with a secondary smell of bread.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa: initial smell of grapes with a secondary smell of tortillas
Eikenella corrodens: bleach
Group F Beta Hemolytic Streptococcus: has a strong buttery smell
Alpha hemolytic Streptococcus Viridans group: also has a strong buttery smell
Proteus sp: strong putrid and sour smell
E. coli: starts out sweet then goes into a sour smell
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 06:58 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.