Scientists discover the secret of durian's pungent smell

Scientists discover the secret of durian's pungent smell

Deemed as one of nature's smelliest secrets, the durian tropical fruit contains an odour gene which is responsible for its notoriously pungent scent, the five-member team of cancer scientists found.

The smell of durian has been described by some as "turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock" — and scientists have now unlocked the biology behind its infamous aroma which could eventually lead to a better smelling variety.

"This gave us the first clue that this is a key gene that results in the strong, pungent smell of durian".

And now some of those superfans from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and Duke-NUS Medical School (along with some financial donors who just love durians enough to privately fund a study about them) have completely mapped the durian genome to find out, among other things, why the putrid stench, durians? This particular fruit has an exceptionally delicate texture with a pungent smell.

Teh and his team mapped the approximately 46,000 genes - nearly double the amount in humans - of the Musang King durian variety and traced its evolution back 65 million years to the cacao family of plants, which also gave us chocolate.

Keeping that newly generated genome data as the firm based idea, the team moved forward to study even the evolution of durian and traced its relationship 65 million years back to the cacoa plant, which produces chocolate.

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

Patrick Tan, a geneticist at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, said, "Most of us in Singapore have grown up with the durian, and we are very familiar with it".

Methionine Gamma Lyases (MGLs), a class of genes present in durian fruit, were found to regulate odour compound production in the fruit.

"Our hypothesis is that the smell actually attracts animals to eat the durian and disperse the seed", said Professor Teh.

Teh said the team's work could be applied to other durian varieties, some of which "are endangered due to the increasing loss of biodiversity".

Besides the particular durian species (Durio zibethenus) sequenced in this study, the team said there are almost 25 other species in nature, some of them are edible and some are not. It is regarded as the king of kings in the local durian world.

"Although multi-durian species are found in this part of the world, sadly, a lot of them are endangered due to the increasing loss of biodiversity".

"DNA sequencing is thus an important tool to protect the precious information contained in these fascinating and important plants", he said.

Related Articles