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Fred Searle

BY FRED SEARLE

Gene editing could spice up tomatoes

Pungent compounds that make chilli peppers spicy could be activated in tomatoes thanks to gene-editing, scientists say

Gene editing could spice up tomatoes

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Tomato growers could soon be spicing up their polytunnels with gene-edited hot varieties, according to scientists in Brazil.

Researchers from the Federal University of Viçosa wrote in a journal article for Trends in Plant Science that the latest gene-editing techniques could provide a new way of harvesting capsaicinoids, the pungent chemicals that make chilli peppers spicy.

“Capsaicinoids are very valuable compounds; they are used in [the] weapons industry for pepper spray, they are also used for anaesthetics [and] there is some research showing that they promote weight loss,” Agustin Zsögön, who co-wrote the article, told The Guardian.  

Chilli peppers and tomatoes evolved from the same ancestor about 19 million years ago, and researchers who have sequenced the tomato genome found that it still has the genes needed to produce capsaicinoids, but cannot activate them.

Theresearch team concluded that gene editing could make this possible, making it easier for fresh produce growers to produce crops containing the valuable compounds.

Zsögön and his research team are working on this, according to The Guardian, with hopes of reporting progress by the end of the year.

Whereas chilli peppers are labour-intensive, difficult to cultivate and often inconsistent in their pungency, tomato yields are high-yielding and more cost-effective to produce.

Commenting on capsaicinoids’ additional health benefits, Zsögön wrote:Capsicum fruits contain high levels of antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and flavonoids.

“Hot peppers also produce variable amounts of capsaicinoids, which have demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumoral and weight-loss properties. 

“All of these effects suggest that a regular intake of capsaicinoids is beneficial for health.”

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