While less newsworthy than say, cracking the human genome, the genome of the pepper plant has been cracked and scientists have been able to sort out what specific genes are responsible for a pepper plant’s spiciness. By discovering it, this paves the way for pepper growers everywhere to engineer even hotter hot peppers.
The findings of the pepper genome study were published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Scientists and submitted by researchers out of the Sichuan Agricultural University in China, an area world-renowned for its mouth-numbingly spicy cuisine.
The researchers of the study started by sequencing peppers they have cultivated in their institution known as Zunla-1 as well as its wild counterpart. As they delved inside, they found that the hot pepper’s DNA diverged from tomatoes and potatoes around 36 million years ago and is currently made up of 81 percent “jumping” genes that are able to move around within the genome to create different effects.
Not only did they find genes that are responsible for how long seeds stay dormant, resistance to rotting, and resistance to pests, but they also identified a key gene that allows peppers to produce more or less capsaicin, thus controlling the spiciness. In essence, blander peppers like the average green pepper have significantly less of this gene, while hotter peppers have more of it. By singling out this specific gene, it will allow those who engineer peppers to specifically produce seeds with mass amounts of the gene to produce the world’s next hottest peppers. However, even if pepper engineers don’t have the equipment to specifically alter the genes of a pepper seed, they can still find peppers with a high amount of this heat-producing gene and cross-breed them.