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mercaptan (mərkăpˈtăn) [key] or thiol thĪˈōl, any of a class of organic compounds containing the group SH bonded to a carbon atom. The volatile low-molecular-weight mercaptans have disagreeable odors. Mercaptans are found in crude petroleum, and methyl mercaptan is produced as a decay product of animal and vegetable matter. They also are produced by certain plants and animals; e.g., allyl mercaptan is released when onions are cut, butanethiol (butyl mercaptan) derivatives are present in skunk secretion, and mercaptans are among the sulfur compounds causing the disagreeable odor of flatus. T-butyl mercaptan blends are often added to the odorless natural gas used for cooking and serve to warn of gas leaks. Mercaptans take part in a wide variety of chemical reactions. Their principal uses are in jet fuels, pharmaceuticals, and livestock-feed additives.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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