I have the privilege of leading educator trips to the tropics. At about Day 4 of hiking in the rainforest, slogging through mud and climbing in caves, a certain odor starts to pervade the bus/cabin/dining hall… and a rousing chorus of “We’ve got the funk, got that jungle funk” is appropriate (apologies to Positive Force). A discussion ensues – What causes that smell? Is it the mud on our clothes? Our dirty socks? Or stuff growing in our damp, sweat-soaked clothes?
Being a part of the “PitStart” crew (where we do not wear antiperspirant, and swab our armpits every day … and then wear antiperspirant, swab, and compare what grows) might help answer a part of that mystery. No matter how much antiperspirant you put on in the jungle, you still sweat. Perhaps the antiperspirant blocks the growth of some of the potentially smelly body bacteria, but do other organisms continue to grow in our clothes? Or maybe the micro-flora and fauna are getting out of balance in this new hotter and more humid environment? Or maybe it has nothing to do with our armpits, and is simply the trapped odors in the clothes that are being released with the heat and humidity.
I don’t know that this initial study will find the answers to the jungle funk question, but I do know that being a PitStart participant makes for interesting conversations. There is nothing like having to stop at a gas station to swab your armpits (with a cooler to keep the collecting devices cold) or using “It is time to swab” as an excuse to leave a meeting. I just hope that the jungle funk we develop in the tropics doesn’t permeate the lab as our samples grow!