Subscribe to Canada Free Press for FREE

Researchers have discovered how onions make the compound that makes us cry

The nitty-gritty behind how onions make you cry


By —— Bio and Archives--August 9, 2017

Comments | Print Friendly | Subscribe | Email Us

Adding onions to a recipe can make a meal taste rich and savory, but cutting up the onion can be brutal.  Onions release a compound called lachrymatory factor (LF), which makes the eyes sting and water. Scientists know that a certain enzyme causes this irritating compound to form but precisely how it helps LF form in the onion remained an open question. Now, one group reports in ACS Chemical Biology that they have the answer.

According to the National Onion Association, the average American consumes 20 pounds of onions each year. When an onion is cut, it has a natural defense mechanism that springs into action, producing LF. This kind of compound is rare — only four known natural types exist. An enzyme in the onion known as lachrymatory factor synthase (LFS) spurs production of LF in the onion. “Tearless” onions, sold exclusively in Japan for a hefty price, don’t make LFS so they also don’t produce the irritant LF. But scientists have been at a loss to explain exactly how LFS helps LF form. That’s because it is extremely reactive, and LF evaporates or breaks down easily. Marcin Golczak and colleagues wanted to take a different approach to solve this mystery once and for all.

The team determined the crystal structure of LFS and analyzed it. With the crystal structure, they could finally see the architecture of the enzyme as a whole and its active site as it bound to another compound. By combining this information with known information about similar proteins, the group developed a detailed chemical mechanism that could explain the precise steps involved in LF synthesis—and hence, why people wind up crying when they chop an onion.

Enzyme That Makes You Cry–Crystal Structure of Lachrymatory Factor Synthase from Allium cepa



American Chemical Society -- Bio and Archives | Comments

American Chemical Society, ACS is a congressionally chartered independent membership organization which represents professionals at all degree levels and in all fields of chemistry and sciences that involve chemistry.

Commenting Policy

Please adhere to our commenting policy to avoid being banned. As a privately owned website, we reserve the right to remove any comment and ban any user at any time.

Comments that contain spam, advertising, vulgarity, threats of violence, racism, anti-Semitism, or personal or abusive attacks on other users may be removed and result in a ban.
-- Follow these instructions on registering: