Scientists cook up plan for spicy tomatoes

The next feat for CRISPR might be spicy tomatoes made with chili genes

The next feat for CRISPR might be spicy tomatoes made with chili genes

Using a gene-editing technology such as variation of Crispr-Cas9, it would be possible to switch these genes back on in tomatoes, adding a kick to the fruit, he added.

'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 fleshy tomato stands in sharp contrast to the more agriculturally hard chilli plant that contain capsaicinoids, molecules that give peppers their spiciness. The tomato could itself become a factory for producing capsaicinoids, or, yes, companies could just market spicy tomatoes. "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", he told the Guardian. The molecules activate nerve cells in the tongue that deal with heat-induced pain, which the brain interprets as a burning sensation. Tomatoes and chilli peppers developed from a common ancestor. Birds, which are much better seed dispersers, show no pain response to the molecules.

But researchers in Brazil and Ireland say such methods also could offer practical advantages, with spicy tomatoes offering a way of harvesting capsaicinoids, the pungent chemicals found in chilli peppers.

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There 23 known types of capsaicinoids and they are all believed to stem from the chilli pepper's pith. Previous gene sequencing work has shown that tomatoes have the genes necessary for capsaicinoids but don't have the machinery to initiate them. Spicy tomatoes would nevertheless appeal to the culinary world, but these compounds, such as capsaicin, have important medical uses, specifically in the treatment of cancer.

Scientists are debating whether or not to activate dormant genes in the tomato fruit in order to make them spicy. Last year, the biologists already performed an experiment and "domesticated" a wild tomato by engineering the strain to grow a bigger fruit and produce a higher yield of the fruit with the use of gene editing.

'One is to activate candidate genes one at a time and see what happens, which compounds are produced.

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