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Scientists Have Found Why The Durian Has An Overpowering Smell

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The durian holds the dubious honor of being arguably the world’s smelliest fruit. Now, scientists in Singapore announced that they have pinpointed why.

The scientists mapped the genome of the durian, infamous throughout Southeast Asia as the “king of fruits” for its unusual smell, flavor and spiny exterior, US News and World Report states. The scientists identified a group of genes that creates odor compounds called volatile sulfur compounds. These become more active as the durian fruit ripens, which is why it emits a particularly strong smell.

Bin Tean The, a geneticist and deputy director of the National Cancer Center Singapore, said,

The durian smell has been described as a mix of an onion-like sulfury aroma with notes of sweet fruitiness and savory soup-seasoning. A key component of the durian smell are volatile sulfur compounds, or VSCs, which have been characterized as decaying, onion-like, rotten eggs, sulfury and fried shallots.

Other fruit species generally have one or two copies of these genes, but the durian tree has four copies. This means VSC production is “turbocharged” in durian fruits, Teh said. This may be important for the plant in the wild, as the odor helps attract animals that eat the fruit and spread the seeds.

The team sequenced the genome of the Musang King variety of durian, and found 46,000 genes in it, double the number of present in the human genome. 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.

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. 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 study was published in Nature Genetics.

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