Just to show you what an interesting place the world truly is:
Twice in the last three weeks I’ve bought a fish at my favorite fish market and discovered (after getting home) that it was stinking and putrid. But it didn’t smell like ammonia (which is what my seafood usually smells like when it spoils)–it smelled horrible. Like a mixture of shit, sulfur, and garbage. Like a stinking mud flat.
Anyway, the first time I figured it was just an aberration, the second time I got worried. So I posted to Darbnet (a mailing list for fellow Caltech alums) asking about it, which is what I usually do when I have a science question I can’t answer.
A biochem friend responded:
It’s probably Alteromonas putrifasciens. As the name suggests, it is a stinky bacteria. And it is a very common stinkerupper of fish. Other stinkers include Salmonella, but not a sulfury smell with that. It’s probably not the market’s fault. It is more likely the ship that supplied it.
Alteromonas putrufaciens is one of those bugs that lives everywhere and eats everything. The bilge of the ship is probably full of it. When the bug goes anaerobic, it switches to an Iron reducing electron transport system and “breathes” iron instead of oxygen. So in the anaerobic environment of the bilge, the bug is busy eating the organic shit and breathing the iron in the hull.
It is also found in oil pipelines. That is where I became acquainted with it. It eats oil pipelines, causing them to fail under high pressure much sooner than calculated. So now it is standard policy to pump slugs of water between different oils/gasoline. These slugs are full of antibiotics to protect the oil lines.
So the stuff that’s been stinking up my fish is the same bacteria that eats oil pipelines. Is that cool or what??
Actually I think it’s also pretty cool that this bacterium has a dual metabolism–which I don’t think is all that common–and that it can “breathe” iron instead of oxygen. I’m sort of tempted to dig up more info on it.
So anyway, if you’ve ever wanted to know where I get my weird factoids, now you know. 🙂 (The same guy told me about a paper describing how–honest!–pumpkin sap could be used as glue.)
I could provide an update on my creative projects, but it’s late and I want to get to sleep, so I’ll just leave you with the stinky fish, the hull-eating bacteria, and the purple pipeline eaters. Life is weird enough already for tonight. 🙂