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Reawakening chilli genes could result in spicy tomatoes

In the journal Trends in Plant Science, an article by Agustin Zsögön outlines how tomatoes could be genetically engineered to produce capsaicinoids, the spicy compound found in chillis. The scientists suggest the innovation would be geared towards an efficient and easier way to mass produce capsaicinoids for commercial purposes.

The hypothetical proposal, presented by an international team of scientists, suggests capsaicinoids have significant nutritional and commercial uses. From painkillers to weaponized pepper sprays, capsaicinoids are increasingly becoming valued commercial compounds. A modified version of the compound has most recently demonstrated compelling anti-obesity effects.

The hurdle presented by the researchers is that growing high yields of the crops containing capsaicinoids is proving challenging. Hot chilli peppers are difficult to cultivate in large quantities, and often result in inconsistent capsaicinoid levels. The solution could be to activate capsaicinoid pathways in a crop that is easier to grow, such as tomatoes.

"Engineering the capsaicinoid genetic pathway to the tomato would make it easier and cheaper to produce this compound, which has very interesting applications," explains Agustin Zsögön, senior author on the new article. "We have the tools powerful enough to engineer the genome of any species; the challenge is to know which gene to engineer and where."

The article suggests that while tomatoes and chilli peppers diverged genetically over 19 million years ago, tomatoes still hold all the genes necessary to produce capsaicinoids.


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