Scientists cook up plan for spicy tomatoes

The chili and the tomato share some of the same DNA because they are long lost cousins. Photo:...
The chili and the tomato share some of the same DNA because they are long lost cousins. Photo: Getty Images

The chili pepper and tomato could soon be united as one if scientists have their way with the nutritious fruits.

Researchers proposing this genetic engineering say their objective isn't to start a new culinary fad - although that's not completely off the table.

Their primary aim is to create an easier means of mass producing large quantities of capsaicinoids for commercial purposes.

The capsaicinoids found abundantly in chili peppers have nutritional and antibiotic properties and are used in painkillers - and pepper spray.

"Their multiple health benefits make capsaicinoids a valuable nutraceutical product, which is likely to increase in demand in the coming years," scientists write in an opinion article in the journal Trends in Plant Science.

The chili and the tomato share some of the same DNA because they are long lost cousins, from an evolutionary perspective, splitting off from a common ancestor some 19 million years ago.

The sequencing of the chili pepper genome and the discovery that the tomato has the genes necessary for pungency paves the way for engineering the spicy tomato.

With the latest gene-editing techniques, it could be possible, although challenging to turn on the spice within the tomato, says senior author Agustin Zsogon, a plant biologist at the Federal University of Vicosa in Brazil.

Food lovers take note: these researchers also say it might lead to the development of some new varieties of produce in the grocery aisle.

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