Genetic theory shows how durians got their unpleasant smell
Researchers in Singapore may have finally discovered where the durian -- a fruit known for its strong and unpleasant odor -- first got its pungent smell.

By Harry Marcolis | Jul 28, 2017

Researchers in Singapore may have finally discovered where the durian -- a fruit known for its strong and unpleasant odor -- first got its pungent smell.

Though many people in the west do not care for the odd fruit, durian is eaten throughout different parts of southeast Asia. Scientists have already analyzed the odd chemicals behind the fruit's strange smell, but nobody has ever looked at the genetics.

"Despite the importance of durian as a tropical fruit crop, durianrelated genetic research is almost nonexistent," the researchers wrote in their study, Gizmodo reports.

To take a better look at the plant, researchers in the study sequenced the genome of the popular durian species Durio zibethinus and then took an in-depth look at its RNA.

This revealed the durian's fruit cells produce more sulfur-producing proteins than the rest of the plant, including the enzyme known as methionine gamma-lyase (MGL). In addition, they also produce large amounts of the enzyme aminocyclopropane-carboxylic acid synthase (ACS), which is associated with ripening.

While other plant species have the MLG gene, the durian is unique because it has four copies. To explain this, researchers believe that some time in the durian's evolutionary history its genome doubled twice. That then allowed the original set of genes to carry out their intended functions, while the second set evolved into other traits, including the durian's smell and spiky outer shell.

"When we compared the genome sequence of durian to earlier ancestors like the cacao plant, what we found is that durian has experienced a whole genome duplication event," explained study co-author Patrick Tan a biomedical researcher at Singapore's Dune-NUS Medical School, according to Popular Science.

The study shows that the entire fruit system works to produce the unique smell. Though the team is not sure, they believe the odor is likely to attract certain primates in hopes they will eat the fruit and disperse the seeds.

Such findings are important because they build both a scientific and agricultural understanding of the popular fruit. Scientists hope this understanding of the fruit's genome will help them breed healthier durians with less sugar to help people with conditions such as diabetes.

The new research is published in Nature Genetics.

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