Traditional Indian and Chinese healers have used cucurbits, like cucumber, pumpkin, melons and squash, for thousands of years. Even Cinderella revered them, riding in a pimped-out pumpkin to the ball. Recently, scientists have engaged hi-tech genomics - and their own taste buds - to reveal insight into the plants’ DNA which may have the potential to treat cancer and diabetes. The research was published in the journal Science and noted on sciencedaily.com.
Compounds called cucurbitacins make wild curcurbits bitter. So bitter, that people bred most of them out in order to make the domestic versions edible. "You don't eat wild cucumber, unless you want to use it as a purgative," said William Lucas, professor of plant biology at the University of California, Davis and coauthor on the paper, in a university release. But it’s exactly the stuff that gives the wild cukes their ExLax powers that previous researchers have shown may kill or suppress the growth of cancer cells.
In the new study, scientists used cutting edge DNA sequencing technology to identify the exact changes in DNA associated with bitterness. They also employed some old school methods: tasting. They sampled a lot of cucumbers. "Luckily this is an easy trait to test for," Lucas said in the release. "You just chomp on a cucumber leaf of fruit and your tongue gives you the readout!"
The researchers’ findings may make it easier to produce cucurbatacins in large enough quantities to use in clinical trials and potentially in medicine.
But that’s not the only reason to appreciate cukes and other cucurbits, besides their obvious critical status in Greek salads. Other recent research suggests a flavanol found in cucumbers may halt memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients.