Researchers Suggests Gene Editing Might Produce Spicy Tomatoes

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A team of international scientists using gene-editing technology is altering taste of tomatoes, kiwis, and strawberries.

Scientists are experimenting to develop fruits and vegetables with unusual traits from a long time. They have found success in altering the color of kiwi fruits and tweaked the taste of strawberries. Researchers from the Federal University of Viçosa in Brazil are finding a way for harvesting capsaicinoids in tomatoes using gene-editing technology.

Agustin Zsögön, researcher from the Federal University of Viçosa in Brazil and co-author of the study, said: “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.”

The researchers found that chilli peppers are labour-intensive and difficult crops to cultivate, and it is tricky to keep the pungency of the fruits consistent. The findings were published in the journal Plant Science in January 2019 issue.

The team analyzed the genes of tomato and compared it with capsaicinoids’ gene. They found that all the genes to produce capsaicinoids exist in the tomato, they are just not active. The researchers also noted that tomatoes and chilli peppers developed from a common ancestor but diverged about 19 million years ago.

“By contrast, tomato yields are high and the plant is well-studied, making it a good choice for turning up the heat. You could produce [the capsaicinoids] in a more cost-effective manner,” explained Zsögön.

They used gene-editing technology (variation of Crispr-Cas9) and activated the genes that would provide the spice in tomatoes. Zsögön and his team are already working on the feat, and say they hope to have some news by the end of the year.

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