It has already been used to make bacteria produce other important natural compounds, such as the anti-malarial drug artemisinin. Equally, two molecules that are almost identical, even mirror images of one another, can have very different odours. Sclareol belongs to a class of organic compounds called terpenes, many of which are strong-smelling and are key components of the essential-oil extracts of plants. Back to ambergris — clary sage is easier to get hold of than whale faeces, but even so the herb contains only tiny amounts of sclareol, and it is laborious to extract and purify. So far this has just been done at a small scale in the lab. In the Middle East it is an aphrodisiac, in China a culinary delicacy.
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