Researchers have identified the genes responsible for the bitter taste of wild cucumbers. The bitter taste is due to a compound called cucurbitacins which protects the plant from predators. Cucurbitacins has the potential to treat cancer and diabetes and has been used in Indian and Indian medicine for thousands of years as an emetic and a purgative and to treat live disease.
Recent research has revealed that cucurbitacins can kill or suppress growth of cancer cells and impacts on diabetes. Bitterness is known to be controlled by two genetic traits, “Bi” which confers bitterness on the whole plant and “Bt,” which leads to bitter fruit.
In the new study, Lucas, Sanwen Huang at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and colleagues employed the latest in DNA sequencing technology to identify the exact changes in DNA associated with bitterness.
Nine genes are involved in producing cucurbitacin, and the bitterness trait can be traced to two transcription factors that switch on these nine genes, in either leaves or the fruit, to produce cucurbitacin. The researchers hope to use this information to produce the compound in large quantities for a large scale human trial.
Y. Shang, Y. Ma, Y. Zhou, H. Zhang, L. Duan, H. Chen, J. Zeng, Q. Zhou, S. Wang, W. Gu, M. Liu, J. Ren, X. Gu, S. Zhang, Y. Wang, K. Yasukawa, H. J. Bouwmeester, X. Qi, Z. Zhang, W. J. Lucas, S. Huang. Biosynthesis, regulation, and domestication of bitterness in cucumber. Science, 2014; 346 (6213): 1084 DOI: 10.1126/science.1259215