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Sometimes your farts stink, and sometimes they don't—and it's not because of methane.

Hosted by: Michael Aranda
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Sources:
https://www.thrillist.com/health/nation/why-do-my-farts-smell-so-bad
http://www.uib.no/en/news/95058/why-do-we-fart
http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/12/10/250007042/chowing-down-on-meat-and-dairy-alters-gut-bacteria-a-lot-and-quickly
http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/04/28/306544406/got-gas-it-could-mean-you-ve-got-healthy-gut-microbes
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3264926/
http://ajpgi.physiology.org/content/272/5/G1028
https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/explainer-the-chemistry-of-farts/2500168.article
https://qz.com/929920/do-you-contaminate-your-environment-with-harmful-bacteria-when-you-fart/
https://www.thoughtco.com/chemical-composition-of-farts-608409
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1121900/
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https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/methanethiol#section=Top
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1570023209003559
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Images:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/43344700@N07/6802069536/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EscherichiaColi_NIAID.jpg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Candida_albicans.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Methanethiol-3D-vdW.png
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hydrogen-sulfide-3D-vdw.svg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dimethyl-sulfide-3D-vdW.png
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sulfur.jpg
"Don't fart naked near food." That was a tongue-in-cheek conclusion from a couple of Australian scientists in 2001 who conducted an experiment on farts. A nurse had asked them if farting in a sterile environment, like the surgery room she worked in, could cause infections. It's kind of a weird question, but not maybe entirely ridiculous. So these researchers looked into whether farts were potentially harmful, or just stink clouds. And their experiment was just one of many that analyzed what farts are made of. 

Flatus, as medical journals call it, is partially produced by swallowing air as you go about your life. But farts are mostly a by-product made by the trillions of microbes that live in your gut, digesting carbohydrates and spewing out gasses. Humans fart up to 20 times per day or more, and release mostly odorless gasses like nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. But there's a tiny percentage of the stuff that smells. Really bad. It may surprise you that methane isn't the culprit. It's flammable, and a greenhouse gas, but it doesn't smell. Not to mention, not all of us have gut bacteria that produce methane in the first place. Fart smells are actually due to a handful of compounds that contain sulfur: hydrogen sulfide, methanethiol, and dimethyl sulfide. 

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas that smells like rotten eggs. It's flammable, and in large quantities, is also highly poiisonous. Like some other toxins, hydrogen sulfide messes with enzymes that let the mitochondria in your cells make energy. Fortunately for us, farts contain tiny amounts of it. So we smell it, but we're not in any real danger. Methanethiol is another sulfurous chemical, and it smells like rotting vegetables. It's produced by bacteria that are also involved in things like terrible breath and making some cheeses.

At super high concentrations, it can be toxic like hydrogen sulfide, but again, the amount in farts is just stinky, not dangerous, and then there's dimethyl sulfide.  This gas has been described as having a sweet odor, but definitely not in a good way.  In a cabbage-y way. 

The amounts of all three of these chemicals in your farts depend on what you eat.  If you snack on foods that have a lot of sulfur-containing compounds, like cabbage, broccoli, or eggs, then your gut bacteria will produce more sulfurous gases, and your farts might drive more people from the room. 

Fortunately for doctors operating on patients, though, that 2001 experiment testing the infectiousness of farts found that bacteria aren't spread if you fart through clothing.  So the smell might cause some problems for your coworkers, but it's all stink and no real danger. 

Thanks for asking, and thanks to all of our Patreon patrons who keep these answers coming.  If you'd like to submit questions to be answered, you can go to Patreon.com/SciShow and don't forget to go to YouTube.com/SciShow and subscribe.

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