July 23, 2018

Secret behind durian fruit's pungent smell

11 October 2017, 11:19 | Silvia Roy

Secret behind durian fruit's pungent smell

Secret behind durian fruit's pungent smell

A study conducted by a team of five cancer scientists in Singapore has found an odour gene which gives the fruit its strong pungent aroma.

A team of cancer researchers in the city state have mapped the genome of the durian - also known as the "king of fruits" - and isolated the causes of its room-clearing stench.

Professor Teh is the lead author of a study, published today in Nature Genetics, which has identified key genes that are responsible for the fruit's pungent smell and strong taste. "How did its spiny husk arise?" said study co-lead author professor Teh Bin Tean, a durian lover and now the deputy director of the National Cancer Centre Singapore. Earlier, the sources called this insane durian fruit as one that smells of "turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock".

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The team's analysis revealed that the durian genome comprises of about 46,000 genes - nearly double that in humans, who have about 23,000 genes. The scientists were also able to trace the evolution of the durian to some 65 million years ago, finding an old relationship between it and the cacao tree, which produces chocolate.

The team also focused on the million dollar question-"What causes the durian's notorious smell?"

But the researchers were really interested in the source of the smell, so in snooping around the genome for odor-producing compounds, they found a class of genes called MGLs (methionine gamma lyases) in the leaves, roots and fruits of durian plants. This may be important for the plant in the wild, as the odor helps attract animals that eat the fruit and spread the seeds.

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"Our analysis revealed that VSC production is turbocharged in durian fruits, which fits with many people's opinions that durian smell has a "sulphury" aspect", said Patrick Tan, professor at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.

While some may wish they had never caught a whiff of durian, others are concerned that several species are considered endangered or vulnerable. "DNA sequencing is thus an important tool to protect the precious information contained in these fascinating and important plants", said Teh.

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