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Stupid Science Word of the Month: Shmoo

Shmoos are essential: without them, we would have neither bread nor beer.

By Jessica MarshallNovember 9, 2007 12:00 AM


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shmoo\’shmü\ n. [akin to schmo, from Yiddish schmuck, meaning penis or fool] (1974):  A yeast cell preparing to mate.

When ready to have sex, a yeast cell looks like an elongated pear, a shape like Al Capp’s 1948 Li’l Abner character, the Shmoo. The cell shows its mating protrusion (the shmoo tip) in the presence of the pheromone “Kickapoo Joy Juice,” anotherLi’l Abner knockoff. The word “shmoo” has appeared in nearly 700 science publications since 1974; it is used in labs studying the bread- and beer-making species Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

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