Genetic Modification, Saving Whales, and Fragrance Factories Make For a Fascinating Tale

Whale Saving Crops

Nick Pironio/NC Biotechnology

So what do these elements have to do with one another? In a word – ambergris. A stabelizing agent essential for the fragrance industry but found in endangered species of whales, an ambergris substitute will now be produced by farmers in North Carolina using genetically modified crops to produce the vital agent. It wont end the dependence overnight, but in the long run it takes the pressure off the whales.

Through the intervention of biotech, those pink, purple and white blossoms filling northeastern North Carolina fields this time of year are subbing for one of nature’s ocean giants – the endangered sperm whale.


Aware of the dwindling number of whales, which traditionally supplied perfume manufacturers with scent-stabilizing ambergris, German scientists in the mid-1900s started looking for natural substances that mimicked its molecular makeup.


They found that in Salvia sclarea, the clary sage plant. A native of the Mediterranean and different from sage used in cooking, it produces a waxy substance very like ambergris, which sperm whales create in their intestines to coat indigestible objects. (Read More)

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