How to avoid becoming a character on the Walking Dead (through science!)

Zombies vs. Humans on the Walking Dead. This could be avoidable with the right chemistry!

Just in time for Halloween (my personal favorite holiday), Scientific American has published an interview with a chemist and zombie fan, Dr. Raychelle Burks.  She advises us that, in case of zombie apocalypse, Eau de Death may be our best hope.

Burks hypothesizes that since zombies aren’t exactly the most intelligent supernatural creatures, they may be relying on the smell of alive vs. dead to decide who to munch on next.  While this is accurate to some popular zombie lore (see The Walking Dead episode “Guts”), other zombies obviously rely on sight:

However, for the sake of more current zombies and science…how would we avoid zombies that find us by smell?

While the Walking Dead used zombie carcass to change their own scent, for the more squeamish survivors of zombie apocalypse, Burks proposes a kind of cologne that could mimic the scent of the dead.  By using chemicals that have been well-studied and pinpointed to decomposition or corpses (or both!), the living could fool the zombies.  According to Burks, some of these chemicals include:

Putrescine and cadaverine are two that are appropriately named. They form when amino acids break down and they smell kind of skunky, and sulfurous, and like human feces. Then there is dimethyl disulfide, which smells like rotting cabbage. A related compound, dimethyl trisulfide, smells like an open, festering wound. Another chemical produced by rotting flesh, skatole, also makes people think of feces when they get a whiff.

Both putrescine and cadaverine are proteins that smell like their accurate naming implies and were originally discovered from rotting animal flesh.  Mmmmm…sounds appetizing.  Although it surely beats the alternative of becoming zombie lunch.

Oh a related to decomposition note, Stiff by Mary Roach is one of the most sickly fascinating and entertaining reads about why we know the things we know about dead bodies and how important that is for solving crime and medicine.  Wonderful read, though probably not during your lunch break!

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