Majikthise reports that an Australian couple has found a $295,000 lump of ambergris on a beach. Ambergris is cool stuff, so let me add to it’s splendor by bringing up two scientific views of it.
First, let’s hear from the chemists:
Since ancient times, ambergris has been one of the most highly valued perfumery materials. It is secreted in the stomach or intestinal tract of the sperm whale and released into the sea in the form of a grey to black stone-like mass. When exposed to sunlight, air and sea water, the material gradually fades to a light grey or creamy yellow colour and, at the same time, the main component, the odourless triterpene alcohol ambrein, is oxidatively degraded. Some of the products resulting from this chemical process are responsible for the organoleptic properties of ambergris.
We know the chemical structure of many of the active components of ambergris—it’s a beautifully complex collection of compounds.
And what about us biologists?
The effect of ambrein, a major constituent of ambergris, was studied on the sexual behavior of male rats. The rats were administered ambrein in doses of 100 and 300 mg/kg body weight. Male sexual activities were assessed by recording the erectile responses (penile erection) and homosexual mountings in the absence of female. The copulatory studies were carried out by caging males with receptive females brought into estrus with subcutaneous injections of estradiol benzoate and progesterone. The copulatory pattern of treated male rats (mountings, intromissions, ejaculations and refractory period), the pendiculations (yawns/stretches) and orientation activities towards females, the environment and themselves, were recorded. Ambrein produced recurrent episodes of penile erection, a dose-dependent, vigorous and repetitive increase in intromissions and an increased anogenital investigatory behavior, identifying the drug used in the present study as a sexual stimulant. It is conceivable from the present results that the ambrein-modified masculine sexual behavior in male rats supports the folk use of this drug as an aphrodisiac.
Mmm-mmmm. Good stuff, that ambergris.
Gorbachov M.Yu., Rossiter K.J. (1999) A New Electronic-Topological Investigation of the Relationship between Chemical Structure and Ambergris Odour. Chem. Senses 24:171-178.
Taha SA, Islam MW, Ageel AM (1995) Effect of ambrein, a major constituent of ambergris, on masculine sexual behavior in rats. Arch Int Pharmacodyn Ther 329(2):283-94.