Scientists Seek Source of Spicy Smells

From Science:Spice

In 1667, after more than a century of bloody battles, the Dutch and the English settled their dispute over the spice trade. Although the conflict centered on cloves and nutmeg, plant researchers have long known that the fuss was really about two closely related organic molecules, eugenol and isoeugenol, which give the respective spices their characteristic aromas. But the researchers did not know exactly how plants make these compounds. Now a team has elucidated the biochemical pathway responsible, as well as identified the key enzymes involved. The findings could have important applications in the food and flower industries.

The research group, led by molecular biologist Eran Pichersky of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, studied two model organisms that are easily manipulated in the laboratory: basil, which produces large amounts of eugenol, and the petunia flower, whose scent is caused by three aromatic compounds including isoeugenol. When the researchers scanned their database of DNA sequences from basil leaves and petunia flowers, they spotted a sequence that matched a gene implicated by another research group in producing the petunia’s scent. Pichersky’s team fully sequenced this gene and found that it was very similar to another gene in the database that came from the basil plant.

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