Geosmin is produced by the gram-positive bacteria Streptomyces and various cyanobacteria, and released when these microorganisms die. Communities whose water supplies depend on surface water can periodically experience episodes of unpleasant-tasting water when a sharp drop in the population of these bacteria releases geosmin into the local water supply. Under acidic conditions, geosmin decomposes into odorless substances.
Streptomyces coelicolor is the model representative of a group of soil-dwelling bacteria with a complex lifecycle involving mycelial growth and spore formation. Besides the production of volatile geosmin, it also produces many other complex molecules of pharmacological interest; its genome sequence is available at the Sanger Institute.
The human nose is extremely sensitive to geosmin and is able to detect it at concentrations as low as 5 parts per trillion.
Geosmin is responsible for the muddy smell in many commercially important freshwater fish such as carp and catfish. Geosmin combines with 2-methylisoborneol, which concentrates in the fatty skin and dark muscle tissues. Geosmin breaks down in acid conditions; hence, vinegar and other acidic ingredients are used in fish recipes to help reduce the muddy flavor.