Secret behind durian fruit's pungent smell

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

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

The smell of a ripe durian (Durio zibethinus) has been compared to sweaty socks, roadkill custard, rotten eggs, a gas leak and "a sewer full of rotting pineapples", but still, the fruit has its superfans.

Ever had durian fruit?

Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the color of its husk green to brown, and its flesh pale yellow to red, depending on the species.

Other fruit species generally have one or two copies of these genes, but the durian tree has four copies. The tree can grow up to 50 meters in height depending on the species.

What did the researchers find out? The researchers found that these genes regulate the synthesis of odor-producing volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). "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.

It has sparked mixed feelings from durian aficionados, who worship its signature rank smell.

Whether you love it or hate it, it's safe to say durian has a quite a unique smell.

Durian (intact and opened) Photo credit: Kevin Lim, Yong Chern Han, Cedric NgSingapore, 9 October 2017 - Scientists from the Humphrey Oei Institute of Cancer Research, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore have achieved a world's first by deciphering the complete genetic map of durian-a prized tropical fruit delicacy known in Asia as the "king of fruits".

"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", writes co-lead author professor Patrick Tan from Duke-NUS Medical School, in a press release.

Durian is commonly banned from hotel rooms and public transport in South-East Asia due to its pungent odour.

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

But its fans remain fiercely protective over retaining its controversial scent. Experts led genome mapping also revealed durian fruit's association with the cacao plant dating back to close to 65 million years.

Zachary Tay hilariously summed up this revelation: "So we're basically eating chocolate".

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