Y: Ugh, Don, what is that stench? Did you forget to take out the garbage again?
D: Hey, that’s my snack you’re insulting. I’m trying to eat healthy, so today I brought durian.
Y: I’ve heard of that. Durian is a fruit from southeast Asia, about the size of a melon with a thorny rind, and notable for its potent smell. For instance, right now this room smells like a crowded gym with an open trashcan full of onions and rotting meat.
D: Okay, okay, I’ll take the durian outside. But have you ever tasted one of these? A durian’s pulp is often compared to delicious, creamy custard.
Y: If you say so. I just find it hard to believe that anyone would want to eat something whose smell says, “Stay back!”
D: Actually, a durian’s smell is quite attractive, as long as you’re not human. Orangutans, elephants, rhinos, gibbons, and plenty of other animals love the scent, and will happily gobble it up once it’s ripened and fallen to the ground. That’s how the seeds are dispersed. Now you might ask, how did durian become so pungent? One study looked at the fruit’s genome and found some pretty neat results. For instance, one of durian’s closest ancestors is cacao—the plant that gives us chocolate! Using genetic studies, the researchers found that durian had essentially amplified the “smelly gene,” which contributes to the production of sulphur-related chemicals. With multiple copies of the gene, durian suddenly had the capacity to focus a lot of its attention on becoming as stinky as it wanted.
Y: And boy, did it succeed. Now, please, Don—go eat your snack in another room.