The durian's smell: Scientists reveal genetic secrets

The durian's smell: Scientists reveal genetic secrets

A boy carries a durian fruit at a durian market in Bangkok. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang/File Photo
A boy carries a durian fruit at a durian market in Bangkok. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang/File Photo

Scientists in Singapore say they have mapped the genome of the durian and can now answer why it is the world's smelliest fruit.

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Secrets of the durian yield to science

WASHINGTON, Reuters – Scientists have answered one of nature's most pungent questions: what gives the world's smelliest fruit its distinctive aroma.

Scientists in Singapore said on Monday they have mapped the genome of the durian, known throughout Southeast Asia as the "king of fruits" for its unique smell, flavour and formidable spiny appearance.

They identified a group of genes responsible for odour compounds called volatile sulphur compounds, and found that these genes become highly activated as the fruit ripens, driving its unusual smell.

"The durian smell has been described as a mix of an onion-like sulphury aroma with notes of sweet fruitiness and savoury soup-seasoning. A key component of the durian smell are volatile sulphur compounds, or VSCs, which have been characterised as decaying, onion-like, rotten eggs, sulphury and fried shallots," said geneticist Bin Tean Teh, deputy director of the National Cancer Centre Singapore, co-leader of the study published in the journal Nature Genetics.

Unlike other plant species that typically have one or two copies of these genes, this species boasted four copies, demonstrating that VSC production is, as Teh put it, "turbocharged" in durian fruits.

The researchers said this odour may be important to the durian in the wild, helping to attract animals to eat it and disperse its seeds.

The scientists sequenced the genome of the Musang King variety of durian, discovering it has about 46,000 genes, nearly double the number in the human genome.

They were able to trace the evolution of the fruit back 65 million years, finding an ancient relationship to the cacao tree, whose seeds produce chocolate.

Participants eat their durians after finishing the Durian Run in Singapore July 23, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

"Most of us in Singapore have grown up with the durian, and we are very familiar with it," said geneticist Patrick Tan, a professor at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. "However, even within the same family, there are individuals that love the taste, while others have learned to simply tolerate it, especially during durian season. For those who have never experienced durian before, it can indeed elicit opposing emotions of devotion and revulsion."

The researchers said there are at least 30 other durian species, some edible, some inedible, and some with other distinctive features. Several are endangered.

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Vocabulary

  • activate: to make something such as a device or chemical process start working - กระตุ้น, ทำให้เกิดปฏิกริยาตอบสนอง
  • ancient: very old - ที่เก่าแก่ ที่โบราณ
  • appearance: the way that somebody/something looks on the outside - ลักษณะภายนอก, การปรากฏตัว
  • aroma (noun): a usually pleasant, noticeable smell - v
  • attract: to cause someone to be interested in something - ดึงดูดความสนใจ
  • boast (verb): to have something that is impressive and that you can be proud of -
  • cancer: a serious disease in which growths of cells, also called cancers, form in the body and kill normal body cells. The disease often causes death - มะเร็ง
  • characterise: to describe someone or something in a particular way - บรรยายอุปนิสัย, แสดงลักษณะ
  • co-leader (noun): one of two or more leaders of a group - หนึ่งในแกนนำของกลุ่ม
  • component: a part which combines with other parts to form something bigger - ส่วนประกอบ,ส่วนเสริม
  • compound: a substance formed by a chemical reaction of two or more elements in fixed amounts relative to each other - สารประกอบ, สิ่งที่เกิดจากส่วนประกอบสองส่วนขึ้นไป
  • decaying (adj): gradually being destroyed by natural causes or by not being cared for - เน่าเปื่อย
  • demonstrate: to show something clearly - แสดงให้เห็น
  • deputy: a person whose rank is immediately below that of the leader of an organisation - รอง
  • devotion: great love, care and support for somebody/something - การอุทิศตัว,การใส่ใจ
  • director (noun): the head of a school or organisation - ผู้อำนวยการ
  • discover: to find somebody/something, or learning about something that was not known about before - ค้นพบ
  • disperse: to scatter or move away over a large area, ot to make something do this - ทำให้กระจัดกระจาย
  • distinctive: easy to recognize because it is different from other things - พิเศษ, มีลักษณะเฉพาะ
  • double: twice as big, twice as much or twice as many - สองเท่า
  • edible: fit or suitable to be eaten; not poisonous - ซึ่งกินได้
  • elicit: to get information or a reaction from somebody, often with difficulty - นำออกมา เอาออกมา
  • emotions (noun): strong feeling such as anger or love, or strong feelings in general - อารมณ์
  • endangered: at risk or in danger of being harmed, damaged or destroyed - เป็นอันตราย
  • evolution (noun): the gradual development of plants, animals, etc. over many years as they adapt to changes in their environment; the gradual development of something - วิวัฒนาการ
  • flavour: how food or drink tastes - รสชาติ
  • formidable: impressive or powerful - พิชิตยาก น่าเกรงขาม
  • gene (noun): a unit inside a cell which controls a particular quality in a living thing that has been passed on from its parents - ยีน
  • geneticist: a scientist who studies genes (= the units in the cells of a living thing that control its physical characteristics) or genetics (= the study of genes ) เกี่ยวกับพันธศาสตร์,ยีน -
  • genome (noun): the total amount of genetic or DNA information in the chromosomes of a living thing - กลุ่มยีนในเซลล์ของสิ่งมีชีวิต, จีโนม
  • identified (verb): named, searched for a discovered - ระบุ
  • indeed (adv): used to add information to a statement - อย่างแท้จริง
  • individuals: persons - บุคคล
  • inedible: cannot eat it because it is in bad condition -
  • journal: a newspaper or magazine that deals with a particular subject or profession - นิตยสาร, วารสาร
  • million (noun): 1 000 000 - หนึ่งล้าน
  • odour: a smell, often one that is unpleasant - กลิ่น
  • opposing (adj): very different or opposite from something - ต่างกัน
  • participants (noun): people who take part in something - ผู้เข้าร่วม
  • production: the process of making goods or materials, especially large quantities - การผลิต
  • professor: a university teacher of the highest rank - ศาสตราจารย์
  • publish: to make something available to the public through books, magazines, the Internet, etc. - เผยแพร่, จัดพิมพ์
  • pungent: describes a very strong smell or taste, sometimes one that is unpleasantly strong - ฉุน
  • relationship (noun): the way in which two or more people or things are connected with or involve each other; a connection - ความสัมพันธ์
  • researchers (noun): people who carry out a careful study of a subject, especially in order to discover new facts or information about it - นักวิจัย
  • responsible for: to cause something to happen - ก่อให้เกิด
  • revulsion (noun): a strong feeling of disgust, dislike or horror - ความรู้สึกขยะแขยะ, ความรู้สึกขยะแขยง
  • ripen: becoming fully grown and ready to be harvested or eaten สุก -
  • rotten: spoiled; decayed - เน่า เสีย
  • savoury (adj): having a pleasant taste or smell - มีรสชาติ, รสอร่อย
  • seasoning: substances added to food to improve its flavor - เครื่องปรุงรส
  • seed (noun): the small hard part produced by a plant, from which a new plant can grow - เมล็ด, เมล็ดพืช
  • sequence (verb): to identify the order in which a set of genes or parts of molecules are arranged - จัดลำดับ, จัดอนุกรม
  • shallots: a vegetable like a small onion with a very strong taste - หอม
  • species: a set of animals or plants in which the members have similar characteristics to each other and can breed with each other - พันธ์,จำพวก
  • spiny (adj): (of animals or plants) having sharp points like needles - มีหนาม, เต็มไปด้วยหนาม
  • sulphur (noun): a chemical element. Sulphur is a pale yellow substance that produces a strong unpleasant smell when it burns and is used in medicine and industry. - กำมะถัน
  • the wild: living or growing in natural conditions; not kept in a house or on a farm - สภาพธรรมชาติ
  • tolerate: to accept something unpleasant without becoming impatient or angry - ทน ยอม
  • trace: to discover the cause or origin of something by examining the way in which it has developed - สืบหาร่องรอย
  • turbocharged (adj): made stronger; given extra power - ขับเคลื่อนแบบเทอร์โบ
  • typically: usually; normally - อย่างเป็นแบบฉบับ
  • unique: very special, unusual or good - ที่มีลักษณะพิเศษ  เป็นเอกลักษณ์
  • variety: a type of a thing, for example a plant or language, that is different from the others in the same general group - ประเภท ชนิด หรือลักษณะ
  • volatile: of something that may change suddenly or become more dangerous - ที่ปะทุได้ง่าย
  • yield: to give up the control of or responsibility for something, often because you have been forced to - ยอมให้
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