mercaptan mərkăp´tăn [key] or thiol thī´ōl [key], 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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